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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Terminal

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Judy Thorburn

The Terminal

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“THE TERMINAL” –GROUNDED IN SENTIMENTALITY

It is safe to say that if you’ve traveled by air, you most likely have experienced a flight delay at one time or another. Everyone knows the displeasure and frustration of having to wait till you finally make it off the ground and safely to your destination.  There is nothing you can do, since it is out of your control. An hour or two wait is not unusual, and sometimes there is even an overnight delay.  But, who could ever imagine being stuck at the airport INDEFINITELY, before you get the OK to board a plane or even allowed to leave the terminal?  It sounds highly unlikely, but it did happen for one hapless Iranian who, since 1988, has been stranded at Paris’ DeGaulle Aiport.   It is his story that is the inspiration for the new movie The Terminal, directed by Steven Spielberg, whose signature style can be seen throughout.

As in his previous films such as E.T., A.I, and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg again explores the lost male soul needing to find his way back home or saved.   He is the master filmmaker who knows how to turn any story into a sentimental journey and easily manipulate the emotions of audiences.  Most of the time it has worked, since audiences seem to fall under the spell of the crafty director who aligns himself with amazing talents to fit his vision.  The Terminal is Spielberg’s third collaboration with Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can) and again with renowned award winning cinematographer Janucz Kaminski (Minority Report). It is hard to find fault with their work.  However, at times the narrative and contrivances are well over the believability factor and the schmaltz is served up a little too heavy. But, again Spielberg fans should know what to expect.

Tom Hanks is at the forefront with another compassionate performance as Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European traveler from the fictional country of Krakozhiak, who finds himself at the mercy of bureaucratic red tape after his plane lands at JFK International Airport.  It appears that while his plane was in the air, Viktor’s country became embroiled in a violent coup, a situation that leaves Viktor in a strange predicament.  His government is no longer recognized, nor is his Visa considered valid, which leaves him, virtually, a man without a country. Unable to return home until the war is over, and deemed “unacceptable” on U.S. soil, he is forced to stay within the confines of the airport terminal, with one suitcase and a mysterious can of Planter’s Peanuts that somehow holds the key to his visit to America.  With an ID badge, a pager and some food vouchers given by Frank Dixon, (Stanley Tucci) the Director of Security, who can’t wait for Viktor to be out his hair, Viktor sets out to make the best of his situation.

In order for writers Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson to write a screenplay that translates to approximately two hours of screen time, they have to stretch the narrative and add more subplots.  That means creating stereotypical characters and some situations that are doubtful could ever happen.

So, where does it go from there?  Viktor, being self reliant, takes up residence in a gate under construction, proceeds to land a job, and befriends a few airport employees, who in contrived movie fashion, just happen to be of various ethnicities. The crew consists of black maintenance man, Joe (Chi McBride, of TV’s Boston Public), Enrico Cruz (Diego Luna), the Hispanic food transporter and Gupta (straight faced, but hilarious scene stealer, Kumar Pallana), the East Indian janitor; all of whom become involved in helping Viktor, who they see as somewhat of a sympathetic hero.  It also doesn’t hurt that, in exchange for food, Enrico enlists Viktor to play go between for the girl of his dreams, U.S. Immigration Officer Torres (Zoe Saldana). Plus Gupta, has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve, all of which relate to his life back in India.

But, that isn’t enough.  There has got to be a love interest, and that’s where Catherine Zeta Jones comes aboard (pardon the pun) as flight attendant Amelia Warren, who literally bumps into Viktor as they are whisking through the terminal.  She also has been playing the waiting game. For her it involves a married man (Michael Nouri) with whom she’s having an affair.  And, although Viktor is smitten, he might just be a diversion.

Hanks is very convincing, accent and all, as the stranded foreigner. And, with the exception of a miscast Zeta Jones, who can’t hold a candle next to the acting prowess of Hanks, the supporting cast is impressive.  My biggest complaint (maybe that is too strong an adjective) is the lighting technique that appears overused. There are too many instances where beams of light surround characters and scenes. For whatever reason employed, I found it distracting and pretentious.

Other than those criticisms, The Terminal is a simple, yet engaging story, schmaltz and all.  It’s about making the best out of a bad situation, even if it takes a lot of patience and a long wait.  You never know what life has in store when time is all you have.  With the release of plenty of trashy summer movies, this pleasant, but not great movie may be just what audiences were waiting for.