Steven Spielberg's greatest talent as a director is that he is able to evoke emotions in an audience like few other filmmakers. Though a more cynical view is that Spielberg is a master of outright manipulation, he nonetheless knows exactly what chords to strike when he needs the audience to laugh, cry or get excited.
His latest film, "The Terminal," is yet another example from a director who has so expertly learned the art of emotional exploitation that, while you know you are being played like a musical instrument every minute of the story, you can't help but be swept up by every last obvious cue.
"The Terminal" stars Tom Hanks as Victor Navorski. Navorski hails from Krakozhia, a country that erupts in civil war at the same moment his plane lands in New York City.
With his homeland's government embroiled in a bloody takeover, the United States has decided that no visas from Krakozhia are to be honored until the uprising is settled.
The violent fighting back home spells disaster for Navorski's travel plans, as his entry papers are rendered invalid. Because he is unable to leave the airport or even board another plane without a valid visa, Navorski is given no choice but to take up residence in the shopping lounge of JFK International Airport. An overly sensitive and less-than-understanding Homeland Security supervisor, played by Stanley Tucci, keeps watch over him as he builds a social life in a setting populated by harried travelers and airport employees.
In "The Terminal," Spielberg has chosen a fairly original plot in a setting that allows for numerous and varied situations. Hanks roams a gigantic stage, built with such precision that you will be surprised to learn that the terminal was constructed for the film rather than borrowed from a real airport. In this location, numerous towering edifices of modern travel become intimate settings through excellent storytelling and solid acting. Spielberg's talent for defining characters allows the audience to see realistic people and touching stories among teeming crowds.
Hanks' acting skills are on fine display in this interesting role. Though by its nature the character demands that Hanks start the film as the stereotypically bumbling, dumb foreigner, he is able to find nuance in a role that lesser actors might have missed. As Navorski assimilates himself into this new home, Hanks brings out a touching and believable character amidst the sometimes-sappy story.
In this foreigner, Hanks reveals a man who represents every part of the American ideal that Spielberg so often tries to depict; though he is almost impossibly good in every form of the word, Navorski is made by Hanks into a believable character with which the audience can identify. In lesser hands, the audience could quickly grow tired of this strange angelic oddity of a man.
Hanks is surrounded by a decent cast, good enough to adequately fill their roles without stealing a moment of the spotlight from the main character. Tucci's is the only role that grates, but that is based more on the character's unjustified persecution of Navorski rather than a lack of effort on Tucci's part.
The other characters fill mostly stock roles, but with some enjoyable traits. Kumar Pallana plays a juggling custodian who initially believes Navorski is a CIA spy sent to search his garbage bin. Catherine Zeta-Jones fills the role of Hanks's love interest as a flight attendant who is torn between the thrill of an affair with a married man and the sweetness of Navorski's affectionate advances.
But for the most part, the supporting actors serve mainly to fill out Navorski's story more than anything else. Their contributions to his life are more important to the story than their own personal narratives. "The Terminal" is entirely about this one man, while the other characters and the massive set serve as tools to move his life along. We don't get to know anyone else in the film in any great detail, but that fact only allows the audience to enjoy the fascinating character of Navorski and superb acting of Hanks even more.
Zach Hilpert is finishing a master's degree in e-learning and works in University Relations at Northern State University. He has a bachelor's degree in film studies from the University of Minnesota and will begin work on a master's degree in American culture studies in August.