brilliant tom hanks transforms himself in fun, flawed 'terminal'
It starts off as a traveler's nightmare.
Viktor Navorski lands at New York's Kennedy airport to find that an uprising in his native Krako-zhia, a fictional Eastern European country, has rendered his passport invalid.
He cannot enter the United States or go home. Viktor has to stay in the airport terminal.
For a few minutes, the situation is played for laughs in the relentlessly gray airport offices. Then Viktor enters the terminal and sees images of his homeland in turmoil swirling around him on television monitors, and his eyes well up with tears.
That's how Steven Spielberg's The Terminal plays: a blend of humor, often absurd, and poignancy with a sweet center.
Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson's script is a sweet story that teeters on saccharine but maintains its balance. It's an obvious pick for Spielberg, a director who specializes in tales of lost souls. Viktor could be E.T. from Eastern Europe.
He happens to be played by the great American actor Tom Hanks, sinking so deeply into the part it's easy to forget this is Hanks. It's hard to imagine many other Hollywood A-listers pulling this off, but from his deep accent to awkward gait, Hanks is transformed as Viktor.
Stanley Tucci has a terrific turn as the head of airport security who initially seems nice but eventually reveals a black heart. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the flight attendant who catches Viktor's eye.
But the standout supporting performances are by the trio of airport employees who befriend Viktor. They are led by Kumar Pallana as Gupta, the janitor who initially tells Viktor he must make an appointment to look in the garbage. He creates an endearing character audiences will remember for a long time.
There are implausible moments. First, the premise that a traveler with unlucky timing would casually be left to wander about an airport for nearly a year seems far-fetched, though the story is inspired by a man who has lived at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport for years. Then there are elements such as Viktor's extensive handiwork, including his construction -- without any objection from the airport staff -- of a fountain in the area where he sleeps.
We must remember that even though this is set in a modern airport terminal complete with Hudson News stands, it's a fantasy about goodness, corrupt authority and finding family among strangers, with a neat surprise.
Though there are moments and resolutions that are very Spielberg, not every plot resolves as neatly as we would like and there are some unhappy loose ends.
The Terminal is not the greatest trip ever for Spielberg or Hanks, but it's a pleasant ride.
PG-13 (for brief language and drug references). 128 minutes. Lexington Green, Regal, Woodhill.