The Terminal Review

by Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
June 21st, 2004


Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at New York City's international airport just as his country, Krakozhia, undergoes a coup. Department of Homeland Security official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci, "Road to Perdition") informs the uncomprehending visitor that his passport and visa are invalid and sends Viktor off with his officer, Ray Thurman (Barry Shabaka Henley,"Ali"), who will explain to Navorski that until he regains a recognized homeland he must not leave "The Terminal."

Director Steven Spielberg attains another fine performance from Tom Hanks and, with production designer Alex McDowell ("Minority Report") perfectly creates the world of an airline terminal, but he cannot overcome the unbelievable subplots and supporting characters created by screenwriters Jeff Nathanson ("Catch Me If You Can") and Sacha Gervasi ("The Big Tease"). "The Terminal" is worthwhile for what it does well, but the film would have been better served by its director had he recognized and excised elements such as Catherine Zeta-Jones' klutzy, unlucky in love airline attendant Amelia.

After being unceremoniously dumped in the terminal with a handful of food vouchers, Viktor begins to realize his situation when he sees the situation in Krakozhia broadcast on the monitors which dot the gate lounges. No one understands his pleas for interpretation nor will anyone help him figure out the English language phone card given to him by Frank. When his vouchers drift to the floor, they are swept away by janitor Gupta (Kumar Pallana, "The Royal Tenenbaums"), Viktor's first encounter with one of the workers who will become his family over nine months. Of course, this encounter is also hostile, Gupta sarcastically demanding that Viktor make an appointment in order to view his trash next Tuesday. As Frank and Ray observe Viktor like a lab rat from Dixon's upper floor office, they're amazed by his acclimatization as he scurries about returning baggage carts for quarters. Dixon, who simply wants rid of the headache and encourages Viktor to 'escape,' hires someone to collect the carts, but Viktor's chumminess with Visa officer Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana, "Drumline") attracts catering worker Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights"), who makes Viktor his romantic liaison in exchange for food. Viktor eventually procures an airport construction job and even assists Dixon as an interpreter in an episode which accentuates Frank's exaggeratedly villainous nature. The film wraps with a battle of wills as Viktor's mysterious reason for visiting New York is revealed as a typically Spielbergian bit of sentimentality.

Hanks is wonderful registering a foreigner's wish to please, dismay at being caught up in a situation he cannot comprehend and the sheer will to endure. He has a great comic moment worthy of Chaplin as he 'dances' about a security camera controlled by Dixon and easily brings out his character's inherent decency and sense of fair play. Tucci is fine as an officious straight liner, but the role required more subtlety than was written for it. Zeta-Jones tries to portray an all-American over the hill flight attendant by smiling vacuously and she and the character just do not work. Better are Viktor's trio of buddies. Chi McBride ("Narc") is down to earth as sensible baggage handler Joe and Kumar Pallana is delightful as the suspicious janitor. Diego Luna invests Enrique with just enough venality to make him interesting but not unlikable and Saldana slowly warms to Viktor believably, but the two actors' romance is another screenwriting misstep that could easily have been reworked.

The three story glass terminal is beautifully achieved (the entire set was built within an airline hangar) and gorgeously lit by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski ("Catch Me If You Can"). Various shops (La Perla, Brookstone, Borders Books), eateries (Burger King, Nathan's Famous, Starbucks), gates, phone kiosks, rest rooms and employee only areas provide mini-sets which negate any sense of claustrophobia or boredom with the single location.

"The Terminal" makes its audience suffer one too many layovers, but Hanks and Spielberg's technical crew keep it aloft.


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