The Terminal Review

by Andy Keast (arthistoryguy AT aol DOT com)
June 29th, 2004

The Terminal (2004): *** out of ****

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson and Andrew Niccol. Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Barry Shabaka Henley, Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Kumar Pallana, and Zoe Saldana.
by Andy Keast

"The Terminal" is an ćtataureate Hollywood movie, as jocund and old-fashioned as a baseball game. Had it been made sixty years ago, it would've been directed by Frank Capra and starred Jimmy Stewart. Tom Hanks (I'm not the first to refer to him as today's version of Stewart) plays a visitor from the fictitious Eastern European country of Krakozha, which falls under a military coup while his plane is en route to New York City. Upon his arrival at JFK Airport, his passport and entrance visa are invalidated (since his home country
no longer exists), thus he can neither board a plane nor enter the United States. For the movie's duration he's stuck there, befriending airport personnel. In a way, the synopsis made me think of "Moscow on the Hudson," wherein Robin Williams played a Soviet defector who discovers the kindness of New Yorkers.

The simplistic thing for the screenplay to do would be to write the airport's chief of security as a gelid Nurse Ratched type, and I was happy to not see that happen. Stanley Tucci's chief isn't made into a villain and projects a measured sympathy for Hanks' predicament. Flight attendant Catherine Zeta-Jones comes and goes through the terminal, occasionally flirting with Hanks. Their encounters are handled somewhat realistically (because really, the likelihood of an Eastern European goofball actually ending up with a beautiful flight attendant is slim) and have the innocent flavor of, again, Jimmy Stewart or Charlie Chaplin. Though the film is sold to you as a romantic
comedy, thankfully the romance and schmaltz levels are kept low. There are no tearful departure scenes or purple romance novel dialogue. "Leaving on a Jet Plane" isn't heard even once.

The film is practical in setting it's story in a post-9/11 world, and some digs
are made at certain elements of U.S. foreign policy, as in a scene where an irate citizen is detained for not using the proper channels while importing medicine from Canada. The screenplay is based in part on the story of an Iranian who -to this day- has been trapped at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport,
and on an idea by Australia's Andrew Niccol. Niccol wrote "The Truman Show," about a man who tries to escape the fabricated world of modern television, and here we find irony in the plight of a man trapped in a compound where all one can do is shop and eat and wait.

"The Terminal" is an echo of the kind of film that was made in the 1940s, when the modus operandi of filmmakers was to make audiences feel happy. Spielberg is one in a handful of seasoned directors who understand Hollywood's Golden Age, and here emulates the works of his hero John Ford as well as Frank Capra and Jacques Tati. There's even a reference to Truffaut's "Baisers volés" ("…bite-to-eat-bite-to-eat-bite-to-eat…"). In any other movie a man constructing such an opulent water fountain (which must be seen to be believed)
would seem silly. Not here. The film is light enough on it's feet to get away
with it.

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