NOW PLAYING The Terminal

Posted: Monday, June 21, 2004

I hate getting stuck in the airport. Airports in general, though they serve their purpose well, are not particularly enjoyable. They're loud, crowded, uncomfortable, and imbued with just the slightest hint of panic. "What if I miss my flight?" "What if I don't hear the announcement?" "Do I have time to run down to the Cinnabon?" And when your flight is delayed or, God forbid, cancelled, the long wait begins. Nothing is worse than that interminable stretch of time between the time that they discover that there's "just a slight problem with the engine," and when they finally put you on a new plane. No one can tell you what's going on, how long it will take, if it will actually even be fixed or if they'll just put you on the old plane and hope for the best. And so, you are left to sit and stew, your options wavering between trying to nap in chairs ergonomically designed to prevent sleep, or spending three times the price for a cheap trinket at one of the myriad gift shops dotting the jetway. As you mull over your last trip to the airport, ask yourself this: why would anyone want to go see a movie about so painful, yet mundane an experience? I can think of only two things that would draw me to sit through such a film: Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

The Terminal is all of what I've described, yet turned on its head somehow. Tom Hanks is Viktor Navorski, resident of the fictitious Eastern European state of Krakhozia. Victor is en route to New York city, but when his native land undergoes political upheaval, he finds himself trapped in a bureaucratic loophole. Without U.S. recognition of the new government, Navorski's passport is useless, and as Krakhozia has cancelled all travel in and out of the country, his return ticket is useless as well. Stuck in the International terminal, he is a man without a country, forced to wait until the political climate returns to his favor. Armed with nothing but his affable personality, Navorski settles in for his long delay and discovers that the terminal contains not only a lively cast of characters, but also the possibility of true love.

Tom Hanks is, as usual, superb. He rises to the top of whatever he does and, unlike some other good actors, always elevates the material with him. The Terminal, though good, was in no way a guaranteed success based on the story alone. It needs a lead of the calibre of Hanks whose work ethic and innate decency shine through in every scene. Surrounding Hanks is a stellar supporting cast including Diego Luna, most notably from Y tu mam, tambin, and Kumar Pallana as the plate-spinning Gupta. Pallana may be best known for working with Wes Anderson, especially in The Royal Tennenbaums, but making a movie with Tom Hanks and Spielberg certainly won't hurt his career any. Spielberg also does his job well, though you might feel that this was just a throwaway project for him. It's nice, however, to see him working on a small, lighthearted movie again, after all the "important" films he's done.

What should be understood going in, is that though it is loosely based on an actual event, (a man was stranded in the Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris for years, following a similar political mix-up) this film is a light-hearted fable, not meant to be taken literally. Though some criticism of the film has been that it never really identifies itself as fantasy, take it from me that you will have a much more pleasurable experience if you don't try to quantify each chance encounter, each convenient coincidence, and each seemingly impossible romance. Navorski carves out a home for himself with ridiculous ease, claiming the, as yet, under construction Gate 67 as his own. He befriends a group of airport employees that, like him, seem to live at the airport. That or they work regular 20 hour shifts. When scrutinized, the movie makes no sense, even if the situation that inspired it is true. But when viewed as a light, friendly comment on the power of love, determination, and a positive outlook, even in the face of adversity, The Terminal is a winning vacation from the summer's crop of mindless action and tedious kid-friendly flicks. It's one long wait for a flight that I didn't mind at all. Grade: B+

The Terminal is rated PG-13 for brief language.

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