The Terminal

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Tom Hanks
Catherine Zeta Jones
Stanley Tucci

directed by
Steven Spielberg

Perhaps the least popular ritual of air travel, aside from eating airline food, is waiting. Be it waiting to check in, go through security, waiting to board your flight or experiencing a delay, being stuck in an airport for any period of time can be a chore to say the least. If you luck out, your wait will be brief. If not, you could be there anywhere from a couple of hours up to a couple of days.

Now imagine being stuck in one for almost a year.

That is the situation that faces Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), when his eastern European homeland, Krakozhia, experiences a coup while he is en route to America. Suddenly in possession of a passport from nowhere, Viktor becomes stuck at JFK airport in New York City, unauthorized to enter America until the States officially recognizes his country’s new government. He is authorized by airport security official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) to stay in the airport’s international transit lounge until the war at home is over.

Time lapses from hours to days to weeks to months and despite wearing out his welcome with Dixon, who deems Viktor a problem he cannot control but wants to get rid of, the Krakozhian refugee turns the confined universe he is a prisoner of to his advantage. He finds work, makes friends with the many airport staff members and even finds romance with a flight attendant named Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

The Terminal is an absolute joy to watch from first frame to last and is the best film of the summer so far. Loosely based on the real-life story of Iranian refugee Merhan Nasseri, who found himself stuck at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France back in 1988 after his passport and U.N. refugee certificate had been stolen, the movie represents two Hollywood titans working at the top of their game: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Spielberg doesn’t break any new creative ground here, but he definitely displays his most accomplished directorial work since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. The Terminal has the same easy-going, fast-paced feel that Catch Me If You Can, did. Keeping a tight reign on the material, he gets a lot of mileage out of the winning screenplay’s concept and immensely likeable characters, and switches from laugh-out loud comedy to touching human drama without missing a beat. There is very little excess to be found here in this film, and for the first time in almost a decade, this is one Spielberg film that doesn’t outstay its welcome by at least twenty minutes.

Each character and subplot is given room to breathe, develop and gradually entwine with the main story. Hanks and his character may be the film’s nucleus, but Spielberg takes the time to make all of the supporting characters as important as Viktor. He even manages to take the weakest aspect of the film, the relationship between Viktor and Amelia, and make it work.

Through a limited amount of dialogue and a hefty dose of physical comedy, Hanks proves to us once again why he is one of the best actors working in film today. He makes Viktor both likable and immediately accessible while peeling back layers of the character as the film progresses. Viktor might remind you a bit of characters from previous Hanks features such as Cast Away and Big, but the actor’s terrific work here makes you dismiss those comparisons rather quickly.

He is supported by first-rate performances by Zeta-Jones, Tucci (worthy of an Oscar nomination for his work here), Diego Luna as Enrique, a lovesick airport food-service employee Viktor helps out, Kumar Pallana as an aging janitor, Chi McBride as a baggage handler named Mulroy and Zoe Saldana as a immigration officer who is the object of Enrique’s affections.

The technical side of The Terminal is also top of the line. From cinematographer Janusz Kaminksi’s warm lensing, Michael Khan’s sharp editing, John Williams’ subtle music score to Alex McDowell’s superb production design, splendid work is done by all in making us believe that we’re stuck right alongside Viktor in the airport.

The Terminal is this summer’s odd duck movie. It’s not a mega-hyped sequel or part of a franchise, nor does it have wall-to-wall visual effects, juvenile gross-out humour, loud action scenes, violence, bad language or unnecessary sex or nudity. Instead, what it offers is a smart script and characters we come to both know and care about. It’s a movie that you will make you feel good (not necessarily a bad thing) and smile while you watch it, and when you think about it for many days after.

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