Cast Away’ falls short of its aspirations to greatness.

“Cast Away,” is 2/3 of a great film.

From the opening scenes of a man ruled by a schedule to the astonishing mid-section in which this man becomes stranded on a deserted island, “Cast Away” works on an enormous canvas painting the picture of a modern man at the cruel whims of time. Then there’s the last 30 minutes, but we’ll get to that later.

The man at the heart of this story is Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a workhorse Federal Express manager. He’s the kind of guy ruled by his filofax. Constantly working against time and his own regimented schedule he has a degree of devotion to his job that it would make most mere mortals collapse under the weight of the stress.

Both director Robert Zemeckis and Hanks create a sense of urgency in the opening segments of the picture. Smartly scoring much of Noland’s FedEx work to the strains of Russia’s Red Army choir, Zemeckis lends a sense of gravitas to Noland’s occupation while gently parodying the ridiculous seriousness with which he takes his occupation.

Chuck is in love with Kelly (Helen Hunt) and in an aborted attempt at proposing marriage, he ends up on a last minute job for FedEx. It is here that the story kicks into full gear. Mid-air, the plane hits turbulence, and in a horrifying plane crash that is notable for its staggering use of sound-the stomach churning echoes of metal scraping metal and the numbing silence of death-and Noland finds himself adrift in the ocean.

He awakens on an island and from here on out “Cast Away” hits it stride and becomes the existential tale of a man both out of and punished by time. On the island time ceases to exist in a measurable form, and Noland is forced to invent a new persona-a man who must first survive, then go about his life.

Hanks is simply amazing in this role. Not just for his physical transformation which involved losing over 40 pounds-any schmo can lose weight Calista Flockheart style-but Hanks adds reservoirs of depth to what cold be a one note character. From his jubilant dance of joy after starting a fire to smartly staged conversations with a blood smeared volleyball named Wilson, Hanks creates a role using little dialogue, instead relying on his physicality and his worn, exhausted face. Every acting choice Hanks makes is scaled down and subtle, a far cry from the histrionics this role cold have brought out in a lesser actor.

What “Cast Away” understands is that nature will always overpower man and whatever we do in the face of that inevitability is futile. But that futility does not deter one from going about their daily life. It sounds like a trite lesson, but Zemeckis’ assured visual style-he’s in full-on Terrence Malick mode with his dreamy images of man interacting with nature-keeps the lesson from being hammered home. From shots of Hanks staring into the eye of a whale to the disturbing image of a piece of driftwood entangled in a noose, there is a purity and clarity to these scenes that make puts the film closer in spirit to the arthouse than the megaplex.

Then comes the third act. After an intelligent and surprising 120 minutes the writer, William Broyles Jr., has essentially written himself into a corner and slides into predictable melodrama. Noland returns to civilization and there’s no shock to this man who has been displaced for four years. There are teary reconciliations and the cornpone introduction of a new love interest that seem jarringly out of place in a film that has heretofore been a marvel of compact storytelling. And the final shot, which is lovely as a stand alone visual, seems forced and labored in the sense that the filmmakers felt the need “TO MAKE A STATEMENT.”

It is a testament to the talent of Hanks that he carries the audience admirably through these closing, formulaic scenes, but it is a serious flaw in an otherwise lovely film.