Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at New York's JFK airport from his home country of Krakozhia somewhere in Russian speaking Eastern Europe, with a prized peanut tin and virtually no English. While Viktor was flying to New York, war had broken out in Krakozhia, there is chaos and all passports are withdrawn - making Viktor an 'unacceptable' visitor in the eyes of airport immigration boss Dixon (Stanley Tucci). He has to stay put in the international transfer lounge until things sort themselves out. Viktor barely understands his predicament but adjusts to his life in the terminal, slowly interacting with its people, including love-torn cabin stewardess Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and love-torn catering worker (Diego Luna). As time passes, his stoic nature draws these and others, into his circle. But he is still stuck in this limbo . . .
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Possibly Steven Spielberg's worst film, The Terminal was inspired by the real story of a man detained at an airport who ended up living there. The writers have not taken this basic idea very far, except to add a baggage-trolley-ful of schmalz. Padded out with unimaginative and / or clicheed incidents, the film is fake from start to finish.
The script labours the opening set up with repetition as if taking the audience for imbeciles, and continues to make heavy weather of it, trying to locate something meaningful in the trite story. There is no plot to speak of, except that Viktor wants to get out of the terminal and into New York itself - to fulfil the reason for his trip, which is border line schmaltzy and overworked, but at leats it's human. It provides the film with its one, all too short but glorious moment of jazz near the end.
The story telling is clunky, the carelessness of continuity (for example with glasses of red wine which is surely not that hard to check) is irritating and the throw away incidents that are manufactured to prop up the film to feature length (and too much of it) are shallow.
The homogenisation of Viktor's nationality is remarkably simplistic: let's just put a k in his name, stick a Russian accent on his speech, and deny him a factual nationality, because his nationality is not the point. They're all the same, those East Europeans or Russians or Chechnyans or Balkans or ....whatever.
The film never looks great, but what can you expect when shooting in a terminal; it's hardly Janusz Kaminski's fault. But even the stars look unwell....
Tom Hanks gives a good accent, and Viktor learns the idiosyncrasies of English pretty quickly. (We are told that nine months pass, but it seems like a couple of weeks.) The biggest problem is that Viktor is several notional characters in search of a real person. He is a bit of a buffoon at times, or a charming romantic sophisticate, a lost simpleton or a wise cupid. He's also a brilliant carpenter and tiler and plumber and a messiah to a Russian speaking traveller in trouble with Dixon over some medication he's carrying. For his father. No, for his goat, Viktor suggests, having learnt pills for pets are exempt. It's all this simplistic fakery that drives the film nose first into the tarmac.
Review by Louise Keller:
I simply love the idea of The Terminal; I only wish Steven Spielberg had nailed the tone of the film, and had cast someone other than Tom Hanks in the leading role. Great actor that he is, Hanks is miscast as the displaced Viktor, who has lost his rights of citizenship and finds himself locked in a goldfish bowl at New York's international terminal. This is a film about a transitory place where people wait - for planes, for people, for dreams.
It feels as though Spielberg was keen to replicate the mischievous tone of Catch Me If You Can, which he produced, and John Williams' superb playful score certainly has all the ingredients to promote the giddy light-headedness of a frivolous tale. But the concept relies on the juxtaposition of pathos with the comedy, and the tone never sits right from the very start, and scenes showing Viktor bumbling into the ladies, slamming into glass doors and slipping on the slippery terminal floor. These are played strictly for laughs. In the first half of the film, it is also difficult to believe that Viktor can jump from only speaking barely a handful of English words in the opening scenes to understanding concepts and complicated terminology in next to no time.
Those issues aside, once the story progresses and Viktor settles into life in his new home at Gate 67, the film picks up considerably. Catherine Zeta-Jones is perfect as the ditzy-in-love air-hostess, who loves reading history books because it satisfies her perverse disdain for the male sex, as most historical males are killed in battle. Zeta-Jones and Hanks are good together, and as their on-screen relationship blossoms, the film's bitter-sweetness is best revealed.
Most enjoyable are the sweetly conceived characters who form a central role in Viktor's life. We love to hate Stanley Tucci's precious, righteous, mean-spirited authority figure and Tucci is superb. 85 year-old Indian actor Kumar Pallana steals scenes left right and centre as Gupta the airport cleaner whose philosophy is to keep his head down and floors clean. It's a joyous performance, as we quickly get to appreciate Gupta's wry sense of humour, as he makes a spectator sport out of travellers who slip on his newly mopped floor. (Wait until you see him juggling hoops and plates, when he doubles as a waiter in an improvised restaurant scene.)
A charming romance unfolds as Viktor plays go-between for Diego Luna's Enrique, who lusts for the 'stallion' behind the visa desk, and there's a funny scene which involves a newly arrived Russian passenger who doesn't speak English, some bottles of pills and a goat.
The Terminal should be a brilliant film, and it's disappointing that Spielberg has so badly misjudged all the elements.
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TERMINAL, THE (PG)
CAST: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna
PRODUCER: Walter F. Parkes, Laura MacDonald, Steven Spielberg
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCRIPT: Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Janusz Kaminski ASC
EDITOR: Michael Kahn ACE
MUSIC: John Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex McDowell
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 9, 2004