Saturday 17 February 2018

Movie Review: The Terminal (2004)

A mild comedy, drama and romance, The Terminal offers harmless entertainment in a message-heavy but slick production.

Tourist Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at New York's JFK airport and is refused entry. While Viktor was in the air, the government of his fictional home country of Krakozhia was deposed as a civil war erupted. Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), the airport's Acting Customs Director, deems Viktor stateless and status-less, and restricts him to the international transfer lounge until the State Department can figure out a solution.

Hours turn into days then weeks and months. Viktor creates a sleeping area at an unused gate, teaches himself better English, and befriends airport employees including customs agent Dolores (Zoë Saldana), a janitor (Kumar Pallana), a baggage handler (Chi McBride) and a catering company employee (Diego Luna). Viktor also meets and is entranced by flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). They become his family of sorts as Dixon dreams up ways to get rid of his unwanted guest.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Terminal offers family-friendly entertainment, celebrating diversity, the American cultural mosaic and the value of immigrants who love their original homeland yet are willing to also love the United States. The film is partially inspired by a real-world case of a seemingly stateless man who lived for years at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Set almost entirely in a purpose-built set, The Terminal condenses societal tensions into one building teaming with commerce, where the fate of new arrivees is decided with an abrupt passport stamp.

The Terminal's messaging is heavy-handed, as Spielberg launches into blunt metaphors and stark characterizations. Frank Dixon is the antagonist careerist white man holding all the power and wielding it irresponsibly, while most of the other characters are visible minorities or outsiders struggling for a better life. The emotional strings are weighed down with syrup, from the secret contents of Viktor's peanut box (the revelation is both mundane and clumsy) to Amelia's search for true love in all the wrong time zones. Meanwhile all of Viktor's new friends are decent and jovial folks hiding secrets.

The film clocks in at an unnecessarily long 128 minutes, and despite the lack of a deft touch Spielberg still delivers a polished package. The good elements include dynamic Janusz Kamiński cinematography that makes the most out of the elaborate set, and a typically dependable Tom Hanks performance. Hanks grows into the role, starting out at an unfortunately cartoonish level but evolving into a well-rounded character with plenty of steel in his core, surrounded by Hank's forte of universal human decency.

Predictably amiable, The Terminal is certainly a functional building, designed to be better than bland but less than thrilling.

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