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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Terminal

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE TERMINAL  (2004)

Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, ZoŽ Saldana, Eddie Jones, Michael Nouri, Kumar Pullana, Jude Ciccolella, Dan Finnerty, Corey Reynolds, Scott Adsit, Anastasia Basil, Carlease Burke, Kevin Ryder and Jessie Anderson.

Screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Distributed by DreamWorks  Pictures.  128 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

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The Terminal

What can I say?  I loved this movie.

Now, I'm not the kind of critic that often opens a review with a blanket statement like that.  In fact, I can only think of one other time that I've done it.  Even with films I think are terrific, I generally try to start off exploring what worked, what didn't work, why it worked...  But sometimes you have to give in to the inevitable.

I loved this movie.

There is a great feeling in when you are sitting in a movie and it just works.  It doesn't even have to be a perfect film, but you're just feeling it, going along for the ride, willing to overlook any flaws.  Some of the best films made can never reach this in-the-zone spot.  That was how I felt while watching The Terminal

The storyline is wonderfully simple.  Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man traveling to New York from a small fictional Soviet block nation called Krakozia.  While he is in the air, a coup takes place in his homeland.  Because of this tenuous political state, his passport is no longer any good and his visa is revoked.  He isn't allowed to go into New York, he can't go home.  All he can do is wait in the JFK Airport International Flights Terminal for the mess of red tape to be cleared up. 

Hours turn to days, days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months.  Viktor loses his food vouchers almost immediately and is surviving on crackers and condiments in the food court.  However, he is a resourceful man, and he spends his time learning the language, making his living area comfortable, learning how to eat and make money for himself while stuck in this strange mall-like atmosphere.

Viktor becomes the bane of the existence of Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), a career bureaucrat in charge of the customs department and bucking for a promotion.  Dixon is a totally by-the-books man, and he is completely flustered that there is nothing in the books to explain how to deal with this situation.  He is used to black and white issues where he captures the bad guys and has them deported.  But Viktor's case is all shaded in grays.  Dixon is stuck in a dilemma, he wants to rid himself of this foreigner, but Viktor isn't a bad guy.  He would not even consider leaving the terminal, even when Dixon tells him that he has an opportunity to get out.  He will not lie to get asylum.  And Dixon, in his own strange way as bound by what he sees as honor as Viktor, will not evict the man unless he breaks the law.

So Viktor just goes on with his life.  He wants to see New York to fulfill a mysterious promise that has something to do with a can of peanuts he carries with him.  Sometimes he can look out the doors and almost see his destination, but mostly all he sees are the shops and restaurants surrounding him.  He becomes friends with some of the airport workers, a food services driver (Diego Luna) with a crush on a lovely customs officer (ZoŽ Saldana), a red-cap (Chi McBride) and a janitor (Kumar Pullana).  When Viktor is able to diffuse a possible hostage situation, he becomes a bit of a celebrity amongst the workers at the airport.  Through his carpentry skills, he gets an under-the-table job working on the airport (making more, Dixon points out, than Dixon is).  Viktor also falls head-over-heels in love with a beautiful stewardess.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is terrific in the smallish supporting role of Amelia, an aging stewardess with an unfortunate tendency for married men.  Amelia is drawn to the essential goodness she sees in Viktor, but she is having trouble breaking a lifelong pattern of men who mistreat her.  The role is a bit of a change of pace for Zeta-Jones, who has recently specialized in playing femme fatales, and she wears it well.  She is able to capture the insecurity of the character, the mix of hopeful romanticism and years of dashed hopes, the dawning realization she is turning forty and is in the same place that she was when she was eighteen.

It should also be pointed out what an extraordinary job Hanks does as Viktor.  This is one of his best roles ever, and he does not make a single false move.  Sometimes when big stars take on an accent it is distracting, but Hanks disappears into this character so fully that for most of the film you forget you are watching an actor at all.

Beyond being a very entertaining film, The Terminal has some very trenchant points to make on the idea of bureaucracy gone wild and the mistrust that many Americans are now viewing foreigners with, in these days of Homeland Security. It reminds us that cutting off all that is different from us may be slightly safer in the long run, but it also robs us of so many wonderful people and experiences. 

Since this film is so well-made and good-hearted and well-told, I am willing to overlook certain things that I would not have bought in a film that was not as good.  For example, a subplot in which Viktor helps to fix up the food services worker, with the customs officer is so charming that I will suspend disbelief that he would ask her to marry him and she would agree before the couple had even said a word to each other.

Like I said at the beginning of this story, sometimes you have to give in to the inevitable.  Just go and see The Terminal (6/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted June 19, 2004.

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Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted June 19, 2004.

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