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Tom terrific once again in "Terminal"
Posted by Soconnell33 on 2004/6/18 11:09:46

Jazz music can inspire men to do very strange things. The meaning behind this cryptic statement awaits all who enter Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal,” a delightfully subtle and moving modern fantasy that holds several small treasures and one crown jewel of a performance by Tom Hanks.

The two-time Oscar winner plays Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European who arrives in New York the day his country’s government is overthrown. With an invalid passport and visa, Viktor’s told by Homeland Security personnel that he’s “unacceptable.” He’s politely shown the door in hopes that he’ll walk out of the terminal and become someone else’s problem.

But Viktor, despite having the opportunity to flee, stays put. He works himself into the daily routines of the terminal staff, befriending a food service employee (Diego Luna), a sweet INS agent (Zoe Saldana), and an unreasonably suspicious janitor (Kumar Pallana). When a beautiful flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) catches his eye, Viktor makes it his business to wait out the political snafu and finish the task that brought him to America in the first place.

In a true commentary of our modern time, Viktor becomes reality television for the terminal’s staff. He establishes a base camp out of sight, taking over a wing that’s under construction. He demonstrates a knack for power tools, which lands him a job with the local teamsters. He learns conversational English with the help of a travel manual. He even figures out a way to disconnect the obnoxiously tinny Muzak that’s pumped into most terminals as background noise, which makes room for a lively, jazzy score by composer John Williams (his 20th collaboration with Spielberg).

Spielberg wants us to find joy in Viktor’s minor victories, and we smile wide when he figures out how to raise money in the airport or how to win at an employee poker game. Hanks, immersed once again in a complex role, wins us over by overcoming his own obstacles. We immediately root for Viktor as he faces language barriers and cultural differences, find such humor in difficult situations.

“Terminal” remains airborne even when Spielberg changes his flight pattern in mid-stream. Comfortable with the boundaries of his charming character study, the gifted storyteller challenges himself by diving into a sweet but unlikely romantic comedy. In the final 55 minutes, Spielberg trumps anything Nora Ephron ever accomplished. Watching him try (and succeed) at a new genre is as liberating as tossing your pager off of a balcony. Again, just see the movie. You’ll understand what I mean soon enough.
Grade: B+

By Sean O'Connell
June 18, 2004

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