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1 item from 2004

The Terminal

12 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »


Friday, June 18

The Terminal, a carefully calibrated comedy set in an airport, is an odd film for Steven Spielberg, which is perhaps why it works so well. It comes closest in tone to Catch Me If You Can in its lighthearted, even offhand manner. But there is also a Capra-esque quality in the later reels, where the essential goodness of a common man triumphs over insensitivity and bureaucratic boorishness to bring working-class people together.

In a summer of remakes, sequels and movies swollen with effects, The Terminal stands out as a strikingly original comedy. With Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones heading a talented cast, the movie should take off quickly and reach a cruising altitude where it will attract a broad demographic similar to Catch Me.

An airport with its security concerns, flight delays and general air of anxiety seems an unlikely setting for a comedy. Indeed a viewer might not be certain he is watching a comedy during the early minutes of the movie, which feature a visa problem, a revolutionary coup and the anguish of a man who realizes his homeland is in flames. Gradually, the script by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson (from Andrew Niccol and Gervasi's story) comes into focus: An airport terminal will become a microcosm of the human experience, and part of that experience is waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting.

Hanks, making a marvelous rebound from The Ladykillers, plays Viktor Navorski, on a visit to New York from the fictitious Eastern European nation of Krakozhia. By the time he arrives at JFK, however, his country has erupted in political violence. Thus, his visa is canceled, the State Department refuses to recognize the new government, and all flights home are grounded until the fighting stops.

In short, Viktor is a man without a country and is a perplexing problem for the airport's career-minded security officer Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Unable to allow Viktor into the United States but equally unable to deport him, Dixon admits him to the international transit lounge until the war is over. This temporary wait stretches to nine months.

Viktor arrives with little knowledge of English, which fails to persuade anyone in the terminal, especially Dixon, either to find a translator or speak in simple English. Gradually though, as the shy but ever hopeful Viktor insinuates himself into the lives of the workers in the shops and food court, everyone finds ways to communicate. Hanks beautifully conveys the resourcefulness yet timidity of a man stranded in an alien culture. The airport workers, while initially puzzled or put off by this foreigner, who sometimes walks around in a bathrobe, warm up to him and come to see him as part of the "family."

Gupta (Kumar Pallana), an aging janitor, gets his amusement from watching passengers slip on wet floors when they pay no heed to his yellow caution cones. Baggage handler Mulroy (Chi McBride) holds frequent card games to divide up unclaimed luggage. Food service worker Enrique (Diego Luna) exchanges food with Viktor for his help in promoting Enrique's romance with beautiful immigration officer Delores (Zoe Saldana), whom Viktor visits daily in the hope that one day she will stamp his paperwork Approved rather than Denied. Customs officer Ray Barry Shabaka Henley) grows sympathetic to Viktor's plight but is unable to counter Dixon's by-the-book attitude.

Viktor's biggest impact, though, is on Amelia Warren (Zeta-Jones), a flight attendant forever juggling her flight schedule with the schedule of her married lover. She and Viktor -- a man she mistakes for a frequent flier rather than a trapped one -- are drawn to each other at least in part by their basic rootlessness.

The Terminal is a comic meditation on waiting. Both Viktor and Amelia wear beepers, waiting endlessly for calls that never come: For Viktor, a buzz would mean the bureaucratic mess is cleared up and he can venture into New York

for Amelia, a ring could signal a lover free from his wife. Later, when we learn what brought Viktor to the United States in the first place, we realize that his late father had the longest wait of all -- a 40-year wait to accomplish a dream that only Viktor can finally realize for him.

For a film that feels loose, Spielberg keeps a tight rein on the narrative, making certain it veers into neither sentimentality nor cartoonish silliness. He and his writers allow each subplot to develop fully while integrating them into the story of one eternally optimistic individual.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes Alex McDowell's superb and huge terminal set feel like the real thing. His backlighting and harsh artificial lights contrast with the more pleasing, even romantic moods created at night in the nearly deserted lounge. The film slows down a bit toward the end, but for the most part Michael Kahn's editing is crisp, while John Williams' score has a jocular quality. It's almost enough to make one look forward to the next trip to the airport.


DreamWorks Pictures

A Parkes/MacDonald production


Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenwriters: Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson

Story by: Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi

Producers: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Steven Spielberg

Executive producers: Patricia Whitcher, Jason Hoffs, Andrew Niccol

Director of photography: Janusz Kaminski

Production designer: Alex McDowell

Music: John Williams

Co-producer: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Costume designer: Mary Zophres

Editor: Michael Kahn


Viktor Navorski: Tom Hanks

Amelia Warren: Catherine Zeta-Jones

Frank Dixon: Stanley Tucci

Mulroy: Chi McBride

Enrique Cruz: Diego Luna

Thurman: Barry Shabaka Henley

Gupta Rajan: Kumar Pallana

Torres: Zoe Saldana

MPAA rating PG-13

Running time -- 129 minutes »

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