Article By: Dan Clark
The Terminal reads like it should immediately enter Steven Spielberg’s pantheon’s of great films. It reeks of the inspired by true story drama Spielberg tends to crave. In addition it reunites him with Tom Hanks, who he previously teamed up with for Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can. However, The Terminal ends up being not much more than a run of the mill romantic comedy with an amped up set design. High concept aside, the story’s execution reads like stereotypical romp about a fish out of water trying to win the girl who is far out of his league. Hanks musters up all the charm at his disposal to make The Terminal worth seeing, yet you can’t help but wonder if what we are left with is beneath the filmmaking ability of all the talent involved. It is akin to watching the world’s best comedians resort to a pantry of sophomoric knock-knock jokes and tired impression. The Terminal is worth a solid chuckle or two but not much more.
In the film Hanks plays Viktor Navorski a citizen of the fictional country of Krakozhia who gets stranded at the JFK International Airport. While in route to the US a Civil War broke out it in Krakozhia, and due to this war the United States no longer views it as a sovereign country. Victor cannot gain entry to the US nor can he fly back to his home country. He can only wait until the issue is resolved so he can fulfill a promise he made a long time ago. Plot wise the film reads like an extended Seinfeld episode, but having a similar true story to back it up does provide a level of legitimacy. His stay turns into days, then into weeks, then into months as he waits for passage to be granted. Victor’s plight becomes legendary folklore for the airport community. He begins a new life inside the airport; landing a job, gaining a multitude of friends, and establishes a rivalry with Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), who is the Head of Customs and Border Protection and views Navorski as a nuance. Franks dedicates much of his time to ridding himself of Navorski before he can cause too much trouble.
When you have a film that is completely based inside of an airport there are a number of inherit challenges. One way they avoided those challenges was by creating a nearly life size replica of airport hangar. This creation went a long way to allow Spielberg to solidify the airport as an actual character. There were certain distinct areas that had associative personalities, and you get a sense of just how big of a world actually exists inside such a confined location. In many ways with its product placement at every turn it becomes a microcosm for American consumerism.
Unfortunately this elaborate set up is nearly wasted with a pitiful script that lacks any real substance. There is little doubt that Viktor’s story is compelling. It is hard not to sympathize with this man without a country. The issue is the world of characters he is placed into is full of overblown cartoons with no emotional depth. The cheap slapstick laughter dampers any emotional weight that may have otherwise be established. Hard drama can exist inside a comedy as long as a fine hand is at that helm. Here the tonal shifts are completely mismanaged in nearly every turn. It goes from one emotional extreme to the next with complete reckless abandoned.
Part of the problem lies with the characters. Catherine Zeta-Jones for example, plays a character that is particularly hard to stomach. Her chance encounter with Viktor causes him to instantly fall head over heels in love with her. This relationship is never earned, nor does it make one bit of sense On a very shallow level you can understand why Viktor would be so smitten, but she is so unlikeable it’s hard to believe it would go beyond a physical attraction. Having this subplot as a key component to the narrative hindered many of the emotional payoffs.
Even with its issues The Terminal is worth a watch. Thanks in large part to the some of the quality performances. Hanks—crazy accent in all—puts his likeable charm on full blast. His comedic style and knack for drama allows the film to succeed where it should fail. Stanley Tucci is also fantastic as this smarmy government bureaucrat you can’t help but love to hate. Chi McBride, Kurmar Pallan, and Diego Luna are also standouts in their supporting roles—even though their characters are less than stellar. They all come together to create this dysfunctional family living in the one place everyone wants to leave.
The Terminal is that young kid coming out of college with so much promise. It’s was on the Dean’s List every semester, spoke at its college graduation, and has a resume the reeks of awesomeness. This latent potential is never tfully realized as it gets stuck in a dead-end job with no room for growth. While it pays the bills, you can’t help but focus on what it does not accomplish.