The Terminal


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Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Amelia Warren
Stanley Tucci as Frank Dixon
Chi McBride as Joe Mulroy
Diego Luna as Enrique Cruz
Barry Shabaka Henley as Ray Thurman
Kumar Pallana as Gupta
Zoe Saldana as Dolores Torres

The Terminal is a slow but cute story. It’s not the best collaboration between Hanks and Spielberg, but is still an entertaining one.

This film is inspired by the true story of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee stranded in an airport in Paris for years on end due to legal problems. However, that’s as far as the similarities go.

Viktor Navorski has come to the US from the fictional country of Krakozia on some unknown errand. While his plane is in flight, a military coup takes place in his home country and the legitimate government is overthrown. As Viktor arrives at JFK in New York, his passport and papers are deemed invalid by customs. Frank Dixon, head of security at the airport, attempts to explain the situation to Viktor, but it quickly becomes apparent that he speaks little to no English. But as Viktor is kept at the airport, he soon finds out what is going on, much to his horror.

Dixon allows Viktor to stay in the main airport terminal, but he is allowed to go no further. Days eventually drag on to weeks, then months as he waits for the situation to resolve. Viktor starts learning more and more English and he starts getting to know the staff at the airport. They all eventually form a family of oddballs and outcasts. Viktor even falls in love with Amelia Warren, a stewardess who passes through on occasion.

But as the political situation in Krakozia drags on, Frank Dixon finds Viktor to be more and more of an embarrassment. Unable to resolve the problem on his own, he hopes to dump Viktor onto someone else by getting him arrested leaving the airport. Wise to Dixon’s game, Viktor doggedly sticks to his guns, determined to enter the U.S. legally and complete his mysterious errand.

The Terminal is rated PG-13 for brief language and drug references.

What Worked:
The Terminal is not your typical Steven Spielberg film. Rather than being very dramatic, cinematic, or explosive, The Terminal is a small romantic comedy that could have been made by a lot of different directors. What ends up making The Terminal unique is that it is a re-teaming of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, both of whom add little touches here and there to elevate the film from being simply mediocre. While it’s not the best work from either of them, it comes across more as them having a little fun by exploring new and different characters until Spielberg can get around to Indiana Jones 4.

Before seeing The Terminal, I had two big concerns. The first was that this was a simple rehash of Cast Away, but in an airport. The second was that Tom Hanks’ fake European accent would be as bad as Harrison Ford’s Russian accent. Fortunately, neither proved true. Tom Hanks makes a likable and realistic character in Viktor Navorski. The accent is pretty good and he plays it up for all it’s worth. There are lots of jokes about his inability to speak English, his pronunciation of words, etc. He also seems to realistically portray what it would be like to be stranded in an airport for months. You see him scrounge for money for food, make a makeshift bed, bathe in a men’s restroom, and find creative ways to spend his time. Viktor is likable enough that you want to stick with him and see his mission through.

Hanks is backed up by an excellent supporting cast. Stanley Tucci plays security director Frank Dixon. Though Dixon is the ‘villain’ of the film, he is still a likable guy. He repeatedly harasses Viktor, but at the same time he’s the kind of sharp, intelligent individual that you’d want protecting your airport. It’s a fine balance for him to be the bad guy and still be a good guy, but Tucci pulls it off. Also notable is Kumar Pallana in a bizarre performance as Gupta, a janitor at the airport. He’s constantly cranky, a conspiracy theorist of sorts, and extremely hardheaded. He also steals the show from Hanks and Jones in one dinner scene where he provides the entertainment. You’ll have to see it to believe it. Zoe Saldana also stands out as Dolores Torres, a cute INS agent who has a hidden side as a closet Trekkie.

The rest of the production is excellent. Alex McDowell created an impressive and believable airport set for the film. I got a chance to tour it while they filmed this movie and it was huge, highly detailed, and impressive. 90% of the movie is shot on this set alone. (Look for the book “Band Of Brothers” in the window of the bookstore as a tip of the hand to Hanks and Spielberg.) The set features a lot of stores and restaurants that are highlighted in the film, but rather than feeling like cheap, annoying product placements, they seem to fit into the story. For once, having a glaring Burger King logo on the screen is forgivable. The music by John Williams, while very understated, is pretty good as well. It really stands out towards the end of the film and during fun credits where the cast and crew’s names appear as their autographs on the screen.

The Terminal has some genuinely funny moments and it shows that both Hanks and Spielberg are adept at doing comedy. It adds charm to the film and makes it worth checking out.

What Didn’t Work:
The biggest problem with The Terminal is that it is frequently very slow. The plot moseys along at a leisurely pace and if you’re not wired with caffeine, falling asleep could be a real hazard. There is a lot of dialogue and character development that keeps things from moving quickly. Not that it isn’t necessary, but it can drag on over 2 hours.

The premise is also a bit hard to swallow, even if it is based on a true story. I find it hard to believe that the airport couldn’t find an interpreter promptly to help them communicate with Viktor. In fact, Dixon’s method of explaining that Viktor’s country has had a coup is to smash a bag of chips on his desk. How that isn’t crystal clear to Viktor, I’ll never know. This language barrier comes up repeatedly in the film to the point that you want to strangle the American security people. And I have to think that under today’s airport security conditions, they would find some way to speed along the diplomatic process for Viktor. Then again, if they did that then there wouldn’t be a story now, would there?

If you’re a fan of Catherine Zeta-Jones, you may be disappointed with her role as Amelia Warren. Though she’s pretty and a bit of a klutz, she’s not a terribly likable person. While she was good at making me believe she could be romantically interested in Viktor, I never found myself cheering for her. This ultimately takes away from the film, but not much.

The Bottom Line:
Is this the best Steven Spielberg movie ever made? Nope. Is it the best Tom Hanks movie ever made? Nope. But it would still make a decent date movie or at least one to check out on DVD.