Starring: Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg
Spielberg, the most celebrated director in modern cinema, is 58 years old. Is the old man just getting mellower these days? Considering the top-heavy subject matter of “Schindlers List” and “Saving Private Ryan”, the thriller cat-and-mouse of “Catch Me if You Can”, and the dark, engrossing “Minority Report”, the last thing you would expect from him is an Indiana Jones sequel and a movie like “The Terminal”.
“The Terminal” is fluffy, lightweight, inoffensive. There is no disappointment to be had from it unless you go in to it with a mindset of “this is a Steven Spielberg movie – blow me away”.
Viktor Navorski (Hanks – “Catch Me if You Can”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Castaway”) has arrived at JFK airport on a flight from the former Soviet state of Krakhozia (awful made-up name). Unfortunately while he was in the air, a military coup in his home country has overthrown the government and the United States will no longer recognise Krakhozia as a valid state until order is restored. Viktor’s command of the English language does not expand beyond reading out the address of his hotel and saying ‘yes’ a lot so explaining this turn of events to him becomes a chore for the airport’s security director Frank Dixon (Tucci – “Road to Perdition”, “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”). He dumps Viktor in the airport terminal, gives him food vouchers and a pager, and tell him he must stay there until told otherwise. Viktor then spots a news item about the war in his home country and he realises what has happened.
Viktor makes the best of a bad situtation and ends up living in the airport, eventually befriending several of the characters who work there despite their initial suspicion of him. He also finds a love interest in troubled air hostess Amelia Warren (Zeta-Jones – “Traffic”, “Entrapment”) who, commenting on the nature of her job, ironically asks him if he ever feels like he lives in an airport.
“The Terminal” is a love story to all intents and purposes. The endearing main character, brilliantly played by Tom Hanks, is a man who has probably experienced hardship all his life. He finds himself a stranger in a strange land; no money, no home, no friends. He has ‘slipped through a crack’, according to the disinterested director, Dixon. His only concern is that Viktor doesn’t cause any problems for him, especially in light of a potential promotion (and related inspection from his superiors). He can’t understand why Viktor doesn’t just walk out the door and become someone else’s problem. He just doesn’t understand Viktor.
I mentioned quite definitively that the movie is lightweight. That’s not to say it doesn’t dip its toe in to the waters of pertinent observations. Officer Torres (Zoë Saldana – “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Crossroads”), the immigration officer who denies Viktor access to the US every day, encapsulates every experience that I’ve ever had with US immigration – seemingly mannerless, blunt, emotionless and unreasonable. Spielberg, through Viktor, takes the opportunity to chip away at her until we see another side and opens me up to the idea that perhaps these people are just doing their job as instructed. Another example of this social commentary is when Dixon’s right hand man, Thurman (Barry Shabaka Henley), suggests that perhaps rules need to be ignored in certain situations because America should be about the people… I don’t expect US authorities will take that to heart though. After all everyone is a potential terrorist.
Anyway, I’m going off the point.
“The Terminal” falls down in one key area, and that are the characters. Outside of Viktor, few of them get a chance to develop. Catherine Zeta Jones’ air hostess doesn’t at all come across as likable and in fact you want to warn Viktor off her (which, in defence, is something she herself does). Tucci plays Dixon quite well, but the stereotypical characterisation of a programmed man driven by the rule book, is cliché 101. Other throwaway characters (with the exception of the entertaining cleaner Gupta) with no back-story and little chance for them to develop, leave you a little cold despite all the good deeds and warmth that Viktor brings to their lives.
And that leaves Hanks as the deserving centerpiece of an entertaining film whose two hours+ running time never drags.