Review: The Terminal (2004)

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Being stuck in an airport can’t be that bad, can it? Oh, wait, I remember the last time I traveled, never mind.

Screenplay By: Sacha Gervasi & Andrew Niccol
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

We have reached a time and place in our society, and as movie watchers, where feel-good stories are almost universally panned. As a collective group we no longer look at movies and expect the hopeful or the uplifting, and we especially don’t expect tales of inherent good in a foreigner. We want our movies gritty and realistic, full of drama, hardship, heartbreak, and callously cold characters. That’s why we rebel, or in most cases become apathetic, towards a modern tale of goodness presented in a wholesome manner as in The Terminal. In this day and age we have no time for the movies that Frank Capra used to make. Maybe that was why it was so crazy for Steven Spielberg to make a movie that is in tone a Frank Capra picture through and through.

The Terminal isn’t about evil, it isn’t about pettiness, deceit or betrayal. It is about a man and the effect he has on those around him. The Terminal is about someone not thinking of himself first in an age where everyone thinks of him or herself before all others. The Terminal is in every way a feel good schmaltzy story, but it is a feel good schmaltzy story done right. That is what most people don’t get about sentimentality or schmaltz in movies, when done right it is perfectly fine. Not every movie needs to be gritty, realistic, and a downer. Movies can be clean, fantasy, and lift you up. The Terminal is a very uplifting movie and it succeeds on every level that it aspires to.

While the supporting performances from Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci and others are fine, and add a lot to the picture, The Terminal is a one man show. Tom Hanks needs to not just be the everyman we can associate with, he also needs to be bewildered, flustered, and completely at a loss. He is all of these things and then some as Viktor Navorski. You know there is no way that he could build a fountain shrine to Amelia, but yet you accept it because it is in his nature to do such a thing. You laugh as he figures out the cart return system. You cheer as he helps a man bring medicine to his “goat.” What you do most of all is follow him on his journey and become more interested in what he is doing as every minute of the film ticks by. This is only made possible because of the great comedic timing of Mr. Hanks as well as his ability to play such an uplifting character. It’s often been argued that Mr. Hanks doesn’t have the range of a truly great actor, but when I look at a man that has played characters in Philadelphia, Road to Perdition, Big, Cast Away, and The Terminal that were different across the board I don’t see how that could be the case. Mr. Hanks is an actor that on more than one occasion has been asked to hold the entire film together all by himself. Once again in The Terminal Mr. Hanks has shown he is more than capable of doing as such.

Unfortunately The Terminal did lose itself a bit near the end. While I did feel that it handled its inherent sentimentality nicely, it did go a bit overboard with sentiment when Viktor decides to accept the actions of Gupta and leave the airport for New York. The scene of all the vendors following him and offering him gifts and cheering him on did feel a bit overboard and wasn’t as sincere as the rest of the movie. However, even in that scene the comedic moments rang true, and The Terminal was full of great comedic moments from stem to stern. It found ingenious ways to use Viktor’s airport surroundings, both to progress the story and to provide many laughs.

The Terminal won’t be remembered as a great movie, by a lot of people it is actually looked at as a misstep in the career of Mr. Spielberg. I am not one of those people and I will always remember The Terminal as a great movie. Sometimes a Frank Capra movie is the way to go and sometimes we just need a small uplifting tale to counter all the negativity the world contains. I know I do, and if you do as well then you should definitely give The Terminal a look.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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