A great script doesn't necessarily guarantee a great film, but it's the best starting point. That's what Jeff Nathanson, Sacha Gervasi and Andrew Niccol have crafted in The Terminal, a film as delightful and entertaining as it is insightful.
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have taken this screenplay and given it a humanity and tenderness we find far too rarely, especially in a summer movie season.
For all the very best reasons, The Terminal is a movie for all seasons and all viewers.
It has an absurd little premise that's used to make comments about bureaucracy, friendship, dreams, hope and failure.
Viktor Navorski (Hanks) is on his way to New York on a very personal mission.
While he is en route to the Big Apple, Navorski's little Eastern European country, Krakozhia, suffers a military coup, which means Navorski's passport is not recognized by either the United States or Krakozhia.
He is forced to stay for nine months in the transit lounge of New York's J.F.K. International Airport, until the situation is resolved.
In that time, Navorski learns to speak English, makes numerous friends, solves life's little problems for airport workers and drives airport manager Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) to distraction.
The Terminal works so wonderfully because Spielberg knows how to orchestrate the small moments that deliver the big emotional responses.
Viktor is smitten with Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a United Airlines flight attendant who is in a long-term, nowhere relationship with a married man.
Viktor invites her to have a quiet meal, which is catered by three of the friends he has made among low-level airport workers.
The lengths to which these friends go to help Viktor are simultaneously hilarious and touching, as is what happens during the dinner.
Hanks is a master of understatement and that is precisely what is needed to keep The Terminal from falling into manic slapstick.
This is a movie about little problems and little dreams that seem monumental to those they affect.
The less the characters do, the more the audience identifies, laughs and cries.
Hanks has a dream cast of supporting actors.
Tucci is a powder keg of repressed emotions. This is exemplified by a desk drawer harbouring dozens of bottles of prescription drugs, but Tucci has already convinced us of his foibles long before.
Zeta-Jones doesn't need to tell us how self-loathing and desperate Amelia is. It's all in her eyes.
As the love-sick catering worker, Diego Luna is like a puppy, all wide-eyed and eager.
Kumar Pallana gives one of the most memorable performances as Gupta, an Indian janitor whose entertainment is watching people slip and slide across his wet floors because they ignore all the signs he posts.
The rewards of the film are like Gupta's rewards.
They may be small and a little obvious, but they go straight to the heart, leaving a warmth and smile that linger for a very long time.
The Terminal is a place where time flies by so quickly and is so pleasant you'll want to return.
THE TERMINAL * * * *
What: Romantic comedy directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci
Where: Huron Market Place, 1251 Huron St. (453-4672); SilverCity, Masonville Place (673-4125); Wellington 8, 983 Wellington Rd. (673-4125); Westmount 6 Cinemas, 785 Wonderland Rd. (474-2152); Galaxy Cinemas, 417 Wellington St., St. Thomas (631-5777)