What can I say? I loved this movie.
the kind of critic that often opens a review with a blanket statement like
that. In fact, I can only think of one other time that I've done it.
Even with films I think are terrific, I
generally try to start off exploring what worked, what didn't work, why it
worked... But sometimes you have to give in to the inevitable.
I loved this movie.
There is a great feeling
in when you are sitting in a movie and it just works. It doesn't even
have to be a perfect film, but you're just feeling it, going along for the
ride, willing to overlook any flaws. Some of the best films made can
never reach this in-the-zone spot. That was how I felt while
watching The Terminal.
The storyline is
wonderfully simple. Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man traveling
to New York from a small fictional Soviet block nation called Krakozia.
While he is in the air, a coup takes place in his homeland. Because of
this tenuous political state, his passport is no longer any good and his
visa is revoked. He isn't allowed to go into New York, he can't go
home. All he can do is wait in the JFK Airport International Flights
Terminal for the mess of red tape to be cleared up.
Hours turn to days, days
turn to weeks, weeks turn to months. Viktor loses his food vouchers
almost immediately and is surviving on crackers and condiments in the food
court. However, he is a resourceful man, and he spends his time
learning the language, making his living area comfortable, learning how to
eat and make money for himself while stuck in this strange mall-like
Viktor becomes the bane
of the existence of Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), a career bureaucrat in
charge of the customs department and bucking for a promotion. Dixon is
a totally by-the-books man, and he is completely flustered that there is
nothing in the books to explain how to deal with this situation. He is
used to black and white issues where he captures the bad guys and has them
deported. But Viktor's case is all shaded in grays. Dixon is
stuck in a dilemma, he wants to rid himself of this foreigner, but Viktor
isn't a bad guy. He would not even consider leaving the terminal, even
when Dixon tells him that he has an opportunity to get out. He will
not lie to get asylum. And Dixon, in his own strange way as bound by
what he sees as honor as Viktor, will not evict the man unless he breaks the
So Viktor just goes on
with his life. He wants to see New York to fulfill a mysterious
promise that has something to do with a can of peanuts he carries with him.
Sometimes he can look out the doors and almost see his destination, but
mostly all he sees are the shops and restaurants surrounding him. He
becomes friends with some of the airport workers, a food services driver
(Diego Luna) with a crush on a lovely customs officer (Zoë Saldana), a
red-cap (Chi McBride) and a janitor (Kumar Pullana). When Viktor is
able to diffuse a possible hostage situation, he becomes a bit of a
celebrity amongst the workers at the airport. Through his carpentry
skills, he gets an under-the-table job working on the airport (making more,
Dixon points out, than Dixon is). Viktor also falls head-over-heels in
love with a beautiful stewardess.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is
terrific in the smallish supporting role of Amelia, an aging stewardess with
an unfortunate tendency for married men. Amelia is drawn to the
essential goodness she sees in Viktor, but she is having trouble breaking a
lifelong pattern of men who mistreat her. The role is a bit of a
change of pace for Zeta-Jones, who has recently specialized in playing femme
fatales, and she wears it well. She is able to capture the insecurity
of the character, the mix of hopeful romanticism and years of dashed hopes,
the dawning realization she is turning forty and is in the same place that
she was when she was eighteen.
It should also be pointed
out what an extraordinary job Hanks does as Viktor. This is one of his
best roles ever, and he does not make a single false move. Sometimes
when big stars take on an accent it is distracting, but Hanks disappears
into this character so fully that for most of the film you forget you are
watching an actor at all.
Beyond being a very
entertaining film, The Terminal has some very trenchant points to
make on the idea of bureaucracy gone wild and the mistrust that many
Americans are now viewing foreigners with, in these days of Homeland
Security. It reminds us that cutting off all that is different from us may
be slightly safer in the long run, but it also robs us of so many wonderful
people and experiences.
Since this film is so
well-made and good-hearted and well-told, I am willing to overlook certain
things that I would not have bought in a film that was not as good.
For example, a subplot in which Viktor helps to fix up the food services
worker, with the customs officer is so charming
that I will suspend disbelief that he would ask her to marry him and she
would agree before the couple had even said a word to each other.
Like I said at the
beginning of this story, sometimes you have to give in to the inevitable.
Just go and see The Terminal.
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Posted June 19, 2004.