Review: The Terminal
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Zoe Saldana, Barry, Shabaka Henley, Kumar Pallana, Diego Luna
Released: 2004 / Genre: Comedy-Drama / Country: USA / IMDB
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Steven Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw won’t allow her husband to make comedies. Or so he says. You look at the director’s career to date and comedy only really features as the lighter tones of fantasy and adventure. If indeed Capshaw denies Spielberg comedy because of his indifferent efforts on 1941, you’d forgive her for her concern. But if The Terminal is anything to go by, Spielberg should make comedy films more often.
Not billed by the studio or the director himself as a straight comedy, The Terminal is however the director’s funniest film. It’s a delightfully whimsical fish-out-of-water tale starring a spirited Tom Hanks, who brings the plight of stateless Viktor Navorski to life with a sort of vigour he’s rarely shown seen the 1980s. Although the film gently probes immigration and the allure of America in a post 9/11 world, it remains upbeat by concentrating on Viktor’s colourful attempt to integrate himself into his new world.
There’s a lovely moment when Viktor, having been in the airport for several weeks, meets a business traveller in the restroom whilst shaving. “Ever feel like you’re living in an airport?”, the businessman says, to which Viktor just looks at him with Spielberg holding the moment for a precious few seconds and a sustained laugh. The film sees Spielberg having a little fun, and that comes across through the story and the performances. Yep, Catherine Zeta-Jones is tolerable in this movie!
“Amelia, would you like an eat to bite?”
The Terminal concerns the story of Viktor Novorski (Tom Hanks) who finds himself confined to the airport terminal after his country (the fictional Krakozhia) enters civil war. Because the USA won’t recognise his country due to the military coup Viktor can neither be deported or offered refugee status. Therefore, he sets up his new home, making friends with the various airport employees and earning enough to buy food by rounding up stray baggage trolleys. There’s a tug of war between Viktor and Immigration Officer Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), who grows increasingly wearisome of his new acquaintance’s antics and the fact he’s powerless to remove the airport’s live-in guest. Viktor also becomes enamoured by hostess Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), while helping the shy catering driver Enrique (Diego Luna) woo security administrator Delores (Zoe Saldana).
In many ways the story is more concerned with the affect Viktor has on others than with his own personal plight. The reason he took the trip in the first place is not revealed until much later in the film, so his integration into the standards of this new overtly commercial culture acts like a mirror to the audience questioning what we take for granted. As he learns more English and becomes accustomed to MacDonald’s meals and working as a cash-in-hand contractor for the company outfitting a new terminal building, Viktor becomes a mainstay in the lives of the airport employees. That he helps two find love; one discover her dependency on men should not dictate her life; another to open up about a decade old crime that must be paid for in order for him to go home and see his family again, is the sort of thing fairy tales are made of. And in many ways, The Terminal is a modern day fairy-tale, a piece of fantasy born out of a real life situation.
It’s clear why the story took Spielberg’s fancy – for one thing it plays a clear tune to his favoured sensibilities (an innocent, conventionally ordinary character coming to terms with a strange new circumstance) as well as been sugar-coated and warm-hearted. Admittedly, The Terminal is sentimental but it works because it never hides its optimism. Spielberg set out to make a film that could entertain a mainstream, undemanding audience with comedy, romance and a little tragedy. He has achieved that brief with flying colours.
“Ever feel like you’re living in an airport?”
Yet, crucially, The Terminal is the funniest film Steven Spielberg has ever made. It’s proof, if we every needed it, that the master of suspense and high-concept science-fiction can also tackle straight-forward comedy with a vibrancy and charm you don’t see in Minority Report or Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg is aided by a brilliant Tom Hanks whose caricature of an eastern European everyman is cartoonish without being offensive. It seems such a long time since we last saw Hanks play for laughs rather than Oscars and it’s wonderful to see. I also loved John Williams’ score for the movie, certainly one his best for Spielberg – he’s another who seems to be having fun with the material, and he provides an understated composition that has little titbits of melancholy amidst frequent joy.
The Terminal is bound to irk Spielberg’s detractors who see his films as various shades of sentimental optimism. The film is at the upper end of the spectrum – it’s rose-tinted and good-hearted and leaves dramatic realism at the door for other filmmakers to probe. With a wonderful score from Spielberg regular John Williams, and a spirited Tom Hanks, The Terminal is a crowd-pleasing charm offensive from a director who has found his less serious side.
Review by Daniel Stephens
James Berardinelli’s film review – …a fine, enjoyable, uplifting fantasy…
Piddleville’s review – It’s simply a marvelous movie…
Choking on Popcorn’s review – Spielberg pur sang, and like his previous three flicks not a bad thing…
Harry Sheehan’s review – It gives Spielberg an opportunity to display a sophisticated sense of physical comedy…
Cinema Blend’s review – Spielberg shoots Viktor lovingly, a forgotten traveler going nowhere while everyone else is going somewhere…
The Oscar Guy’s review – …a mix of carefully executed emotional scenes surrounded by humorous fish-out-of-water moments…