Published June 18, 2004

'Terminal' fine place to spend time
Hanks shines in Spielberg's inventive tale of a foreigner trapped in an airport.

Tom Hanks stars in Steven Spielberg's 'The Terminal,' a film about a man who lives in New York's JFK airport for nine months.
Tom Hanks stars in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," a film about a man who lives in New York's JFK airport for nine months.
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

See Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" and you'll never complain again about a three- or four-hour delay at an airport. After all, the Tom Hanks character is stranded at New York City's JFK airport for nine months.

Using the inventive device of a man trapped at JFK, Spielberg and his writers spin a whimsical fable about the frustrations and occasional idiocy of borders and of unbending bureaucracy. It's also an amusing meditation on the concept of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, since the film's hero qualifies as the patron saint of patience.

Hanks is Viktor Navorski, an amiable fellow from Krakozhia, a fictional Eastern European country modeled after any one of several former members of the Soviet Union. But before Navor-ski can clear customs, a coup overtakes the government in his homeland, and his visa is lifted. Because of the civil war, no commercial flights are going into Krakozhia. Thus, he can't leave the airport, via ground or air.

Viktor speaks little English and the American airport security folks aren't very helpful. The chief officer, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), is a bureaucratic nightmare, a tightly wound fellow who apparently hasn't learned if you follow the book too strictly you end up pressed between its pages like a dead leaf.

Dixon, however, allows Viktor access to an unused international lounge area that's under construction so he can pull a few seats together for a bed. Dixon, however, is dismayed to occasionally see Viktor wandering through the passenger lounges in a bathrobe.

Eventually, Viktor learns a modicum of English by studying tourist guides from the bookstore. A resourceful fellow, he also figures ways to earn just enough cash to get meals at the food court. Soon Viktor is part of a community of Third World immigrants and working-class folks at the airport, including a cranky janitor (Kumar Pallana) who enjoys watching unsuspecting folks slip on his just-washed floors, a baggage handler (Chi McBride) who organizes poker games among the workers; and a food service worker (Diego Luna) who gives trays of airplane food to Viktor in exchange for his help in his budding romance with an immigration officer (Zoe Saldana).

Viktor also has a bit of a romance of his own, thanks to a friendship with a stewardess (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who frequently passes through JFK.

The action is played out on a marvelous airport set, complete with working stores and restaurants, all conveying a true suggestion of authenticity. And it's photographed beautifully by Janusz Kaminski, who's been at Spielberg's side for all his films since winning the Oscar for "Schindler's List."

Spielberg directs with a light and bemused touch, not unlike that he applied to his last film, "Catch Me If You Can." Here, he adds a distinctive Capra-esque nod to the common man.

"The Terminal" isn't a belly laugh; rather it enthralls viewers with gentle humor and warmth, and holds your attention with the mystery of Viktor's visit. The resolution is surprising and sweet.

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