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The Terminal Review

By Shawn McKenzie 06/21/2004

I have to be honest:  despite the fact that director Stephen Spielberg has made many wonderful non-sci-fi flicks, Iím always a little leery of how well I will take them.  The same thing always happens thoughÖI end up loving them anyway.  That happened again with his latest, The Terminal.


Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is a citizen of the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia.  He has come to New York City to do a favor for his father, and then he plans to go home.  In the period of traveling from Krakozhia to New York, his homeland had erupted in civil war.  This creates a logistical problem for him, since he is caught in an immigration Catch-22.  The United States no longer recognizes his country (at least during the civil war), so he is not allowed into the USA for this reason, and they wonít allow him to go back home for the same reason.  This is a problem for airport security director Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), since his boss, Salchak (Eddie Jones), has informed him that he is up for a promotion, and he doesnít need this headache.  He has head security guard Ray Thurman (Barry Shabaka Henley) escort Viktor to the international lounge of the airport terminal and give him some food vouchers.  Ray tells Viktor that he has to stay there until the situation in Krakozhia is resolved.  Viktor doesnít quite get it, since he can barely speak any English, but when he sees footage of the civil war on the terminal TVs, he understands and freaks out.  He soon accepts his situation and looks for a way to survive, but he accidentally loses his food vouchers to custodian Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), who thinks that Viktor is a foreign spy.  Frank canít technically let Viktor leave, but he tries to slyly allow Viktor to go unofficially, so that the foreigner will be someone elseís problem.  Viktorís honesty weighs out, much to Frankís distress.  Since he has no food vouchers, Viktor finds other ways of getting food, from eating crackers with mustard and ketchup to returning luggage trolleys for quarters so that he can buy burgers at Burger King.  Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), a driver for the airport food service, sees his plight and makes a deal with him.  He agrees to feed Viktor in exchange for him getting personal information about customs official Dolores Torres (ZoŽ Saldana), with whom he is madly in love.  Everyday Viktor takes his pass and exit form to Dolores, gets denied entry into the country with her big, red ďDeniedĒ stamp, and finds out more useful information for Enrique.  Baggage handler Joe Mulroy (Chi McBride) also helps out Viktor, and eventually so does Gupta, after Joe convinces him that Viktor is not a spy.  Viktor himself starts to fall in love, with flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who occasionally passes through the airport.  She is having an affair with a married man named Max (Michael Nouri) and is frustrated that he wonít leave his wife for her.  At night, Viktor sleeps on a row of chairs in the unfinished Gate 67, but out of boredom, he finishes the work on the gate, leading the construction foreman, Karl Iverson (Jude Ciccolella), to hire him for his crew and pay him under the table.  Days turn into weeks, which turn into months (nine months to be exact), but he has patience, since he made a promise to his dad to do this favor, and not even the United Statesí bureaucracy will stop him.


This story is loosely based on the story of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee.  In 1988, Nasseri landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry into England because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen.  The French authorities would not let him leave the airport, and he stayed there in Terminal One for the rest of his life (he has since been granted permission to either enter France or return to his own country, but chooses to live in the terminal.)  Screenwriters Jeff Nathanson and Sacha Gervasi took Nasseriís story, changed the location, added some supporting characters and a love interest, and told a charming, though slightly disjointed, story.


Hanks gives another performance that should be nominated for an Oscar.  It didnít take me long to believe that he was a foreigner, and not just an actor playing a foreigner.  Tucci, whom I normally donít like, is good as the ďbad guy,Ē if thatís what you can call his character.  I liked Zeta-Jones, but I thought that her character was more of a distraction than an integral part of the plot.


Other than the Zeta-Jones character, the only other thing that irked me slightly was a bit of misplaced humor that Spielberg occasionally lets in.  In Minority Report, it was Tom Cruiseís eyeballs rolling down a ramp.  In this movie, it was Guptaís attempt to entertain Viktor and Amelia during a romantic dinner.  While they were eating, Gupta would do something even odder, from juggling to spinning plates, each time they showed him entertaining them.  I know that this movie is kind of a comedy anyway, but it wasnít slapstick, so I thought that it was a weird running joke.

Overall, The Terminal is an endearing and highly entertaining movie.  Throughout Spielbergís career, he has had more hits than misses with me, so next time he comes out with a movie, I should assume that I will like it, sci-fi or otherwise.  Donít let me down, Stephen!


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