Terminal is a Fun Flight of Fantasy

Last time director Steven Spielberg did a coming-to-America story, it was the serious drama, Amistad. This time around, Spielberg gives us The Terminal which much more lighthearted.
Tom Hanks plays Soviet traveler Viktor Navorski who is forced to live in a New York airport when a civil war in his country renders his passport “unacceptable.” With no other options, Viktor makes the best of his situation by making friends, getting a job, playing matchmaker, and pursuing Amelia (played by Catherine Zeta Jones), a klutzy flight attendant. Viktor also faces off against Stanley Tucci playing Frank Dixon, an agent in charge of the airport’s security who sees Viktor’s continuing presence as a personal threat to his career.
The beginning thirty minutes of the film were the most interesting and compelling. Hank’s performance as Viktor learns of the tragedies occurring in his homeland is believable and heartbreaking. One could not help but have September 11th flashbacks as Victor runs throughout the terminal trying to catch bits of news off the televisions.
The earlier part of the film also features a series of bits as Viktor figures out how to survive in the terminal. He goes from starving to eating crackers and
condiments to feasting on Burger King. This survival sequence is reminiscent of Cast Away, another Hanks vehicle in which the main character attempts to survive on a deserted island.
Here Hanks turns in another likeable performance. He plays Viktor with a balance of decency, comedy, and dimension. Hanks performance anchors the supporting cast.
Tucci’s Dixon also finds a tricky balance of coldness and humanity. He can play both the broken man when he loses hope of getting a long-awaited promotion, and the threatening adversary as he tries to strong-arm Viktor. We see that his antagonism towards Viktor is driven by a desire to run the terminal perfectly and impress his superiors. However, the statement the film makes is that Dixon overlooks the people within the system as he seeks to
solve problems whereas Viktor always seeks to help those around him. This quality is almost to his detriment when Dixon threatens to fire Viktor’s friends who work in the airport if Viktor refuses to leave.
Chi McBride, Kumar Pallana, and Diego Luna play Viktor’s pals and Zoe Saldana is the object of Luna’s affections. Luna and Saldana’s love story as a subplot is cute enough, but these two actors stand out among the rest of the supporters for being likable and attractive. I predict these two actors are on their way to stardom. On the other hand, Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Amelia is supposed to come off as charming and perhaps mysterious, but never quite gets there. Is she a loveable ditz or aloof? I don’t know and it does not seem like Zeta-Jones does either. Luckily, Hanks plays Viktor as so smitten with her that you root for the couple anyway.
While some of the plot events are not completely believable, Tom Hanks’ performance and the amazing realism of the airport set-design help viewers to suspend reality. Another flaw of The Terminal is that, as expected, Spielberg gives us a strong serving of saccharine. However, he wisely avoids an overdose in how he handles the relationship between Victor and Amelia. The jokes here come much cleaner than in Dodgeball and there are no scares like in Harry Potter, so sit back and enjoy the flight.


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