A review of “The Terminal” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for adult suggestion and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

 

 

Steven Spielberg climbs back in the saddle with a ubiquitously engaging tale of a stranger in a strange land.

Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands at New York’s JFK clutching a can of peanuts and bursting with enthusiasm for the country whose streets are ostensibly paved with gold.  While en route, Viktor’s homeland of Krakozhia has collapsed under an anarchist military coup, rendering the innocent immigrant a man without country. U.S. Customs is not amused.

The United States will not recognize a nation that has been annexed from the inside. In the words of Director of Customs Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), Viktor is “unacceptable”.

The poor soul is offered a handful of food vouchers and a pager, and dispatched to the confines of the International Lounge.  And he waits… with exaggerated patience and attention to detail. 

With six-hundred planes arriving and departing the bustling terminal on a daily basis, Dixon has more on his mind than a sketchy Soviet who’s fallen through the cracks.  Viktor makes the best of his unfortunate deferment, befriending baggage handlers, janitors, and comely flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who rendezvous with a married man on her regular layovers.

The fact that Viktor evolves into an unlikely champion of the downtrodden is one of the many delights of this far-fetched but prepossessing fantasy. While Dixon barely suppresses his exasperation over his Krakozhian albatross (repeatedly trying to hand him off to another unsuspecting agency), Viktor becomes an indispensable fixture on the terminal scene. Slinging cement with the airport construction crew, match-making a love-struck catering employee and his unsuspecting lady, and wrestling with complicated feelings for Amelia are all in a day’s wait.

Spielberg has developed a soft spot to complement his gift of storytelling.  That works both for and against him, lightening the mood when need be but pushing the schmaltz past its natural shelf life.  One-note narrative joke runs a little ragged at two-hours plus, casting about for the ultimate feel-good climax. The subtler implications of Viktor’s inimitable status are pregnant with charm.

Hanks delivers an Oscar-worthy performance that smacks of shipwrecked Chuck Nolan of Cast Away fame, laying the goodwill on thick.  It’s not without effect; Hanks is a master of his craft and hunky to boot.  Tucci and Zeta-Jones add welcome doses of contemporary cynicism.

Production design is top-notch; narrowed in scope to a fully functioning airport terminal/shopping concourse (hello product placements!) created solely for the film.  Welcome to Spielberg’s world; you wouldn’t want to live there but it’s a nice place to visit.