**** (out of 5)
June 18, 2004
Tom Hanks as VIKTOR NAVORSKI
Catherine Zeta-Jones as AMELIA WARREN
Stanley Tucci as FRANK DIXON
Chi McBride as JOE MULROY
Diego Luna as ENRIQUE CRUZ
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
BY KEVIN CARR
So the question on everyone’s mind in regards to “The Terminal” is whether Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have put together another Oscar-worthy film. Well, I don’t know about that. “The Terminal” is a good film, but it’s not one of the best of the year.
Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a citizen of Krakovia, an old Soviet satellite. While in the air traveling to New York, a revolution breaks out in Krakovia. Because the new government is not recognized by the United States and Viktor was not fleeing his country, he is stuck in JFK airport indefinitely. So, Viktor waits. Every day for the better part of a year, Viktor files his paperwork and is denied. Soon, he becomes a permanent fixture at JFK, bringing together the family of workers at the terminal.
Playing the villain, albeit a feel-good villain, is Stanley Tucci as head of security Frank Dixon. Tucci is excellent in his role, as is expected, managing to be quite dastardly but still be lovable. But going back to the Frank Capra references, Frank is no Mister Potter. That was one thing that Capra always made sure he got right – he usually had a solid nemesis to build up his hero.
If comparisons are going to be made to Capra, then surely we can look at the Hitchcock quality of this film as well. It’s doesn’t have a Hitchcock quality because of the thrills. No psychos in the shower, hacking to death young adulterers here. What conjures the spirit of Hitchcock here is the legendary director’s temptation to limit himself. Whether he shot the whole movie in a room looking out a rear window or on a lifeboat, Hitchcock always managed to strip away the flash of location and get down to the heart of the characters by limiting his physical scope.
Similarly, Spielberg takes on the challenge of setting the movie almost entirely in the JFK airport. While JFK is considerably larger than a lifeboat or Jimmy Stewart’s rear window apartment, the airport becomes a character itself. Spielberg does an excellent job making the audience feel they are waiting through the year with Viktor as he waits for the crisis in Krakovia to be over.
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Viktor. I have to admit that I was initially skeptical whether he was going to pull it off. After all, Hanks is so adept at playing the American everyman, does he have the acting chops to pull off a international everyman? Hanks steps up to the plate and hits a home run with this one, turning in one of the more lovable roles of his career. Now, his only acting challenge left is to play a James Bond villain.
Still, there are some wasted performances, and at the top of that list is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the uber-easy stewardess Amelia Warren. She served simply as a rallying point for the employees of JFK to cheer Viktor on as he goes for a relationship. Ultimately, if it were not for Hollywood’s apparent requirement for a love interest in 95 percent of all films, Miss Zeta-Jones could have been left on the cutting room floor and not harmed the film at all.
If Spielberg made any mistakes with “The Terminal,” it’s that he made it feel too good. I don’t mind a good feel-good movie now and than. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I still get a damp eye at some of Frank Capra’s old films. But Spielberg’s quest to make a Capra-esque movie is a little much. Come on, people. This is New York City we’re talking about. People aren’t that nice in New York, are they?
But I do give kudos to Spielberg because he was able to make a post-9/11 film about a foreigner in an American airport without getting on a soap box about terrorism or airport anxiety. It goes to show that while Spielberg is not necessarily the bigger man between him and Michael Moore, he is a better man. While there are hints of post-9/11 America that cannot be avoided, like Frank working for the Department of Homeland Security and a jumpy security staff at the airport, this film could easily have taken place ten or more years ago.
Most of this film is a series of feel-good moments, peppered with enough struggle to make things interesting. In the hands of anyone other than Spielberg or Hanks, this may have been utterly dreadful. But when the folks in charge are rumored to be two of the nicest men in Hollywood, you really can’t go wrong.