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Tom Hanks, as usual, is brilliant in ‘The Terminal’

Jun 22, 2004, 10:43

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By Jane Loutzenhiser

In “The Terminal” Tom Hanks gets to strut his stuff as he tiptoes onto Meryl Streep’s turf: the land of dialects.
Here he plays an Eastern European who falls prey to a system that clearly fails those whom it should, in fact, serve.
A resident of the fictional Balkan country Krakozhia, he ventures to New York as a tourist, but gets detained at JFK Airport due to a rather significant glitch.
While he was in flight, the government of Krakozhia suffered a coup and was, hence, eradicated.
This renders his passport invalid, and, therefore, he is not allowed to visit the United States. Plus, all flights in and out of Krakozhia have been suspended.
Thus, Viktor Navorski (Hanks) finds himself stuck at the airport, at the behest of the man in charge of the airport’s customs issues, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci).
They arm him with meal vouchers and a phone card and send him on his way with the assumption – and hope – that he will exit the terminal and, hence, transfer his problems to someone else’s jurisdiction.
But Navorski, being the upstanding man that he is, doesn’t dare escape. Instead, he draws upon survival skills (“Cast Away,” anyone?) to subsist in the airport.
He discovers how to get money for returning carts, which finally affords him a Whopper – fancy eatin’ after subsisting on Saltine and condiment sandwiches.
He also fashions some living quarters in a part of the terminal that is under construction.
He eventually befriends some of the other airport employees, and even serves as matchmaker. He keeps his spirits up throughout and even finds some employment. Along the way he meets Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a flight attendant who is resigned to age while contenting herself as someone’s longtime mistress.
He manages to pull hope out of her in his unique way of making the best of things.
Of course, this movie is chock full of implausibility. The very premise of detaining someone whose country is in upheaval is questionable.
The fact that Mr. Dixon would be so devoid of compassion and help is mind-blowing.
Then there’s the notion of someone taking up residence in an abandoned gate at the airport and getting away with it (although it is loosely based on an Iranian refugee who resides at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris).
Then there’s the likelihood of his matchmaking abilities with the two airport employees.
And, of course, the elaborate gift he makes for Amelia.
Yes, it’s all implausible. A fellow critic commented that “Lord of the Rings” was more believable.
Although I don’t agree, I see his point.
That said, however, I thought it was a lovely, delightful story. The characters are quite compelling. Hanks is wonderful as Viktor. He brings you in so completely that you forget it’s Tom Hanks. Tucci, while prickly and heartless, gives a very strong performance. Zeta-Jones is lovely as the indecisive Amelia.
As she has shown a great ability in playing unlikable women, I wondered if she could play someone nice. Here she does. And she makes you care about her.
The supporting characters are delightfully unique.
Chi McBride and Diego Luna play the sensible and friendly employees while Kumar Pallana is the quirky Indian trash collector who demands that you have an appointment before you speak to him.
He’s a mean plate spinner, to boot.
Zoe Saldana displays the ruthless resignation that nearly all airport personnel seem to have, yet turns around to show compassion and caring.
These characters coupled with some memorable moments make this movie a great experience.
Seeing Hanks getting wise to the surveillance camera and using it as a communication device is extremely satisfying.
His persistence in job-hunting is heartbreaking. His industriousness and resourcefulness is inspiring and reminiscent of his “Cast Away” character.
The dinner with Amelia that he orchestrates without leaving the airport is both funny and touching. How his friends help is endearing, especially Pallana’s plate-spinning for dinner entertainment.
And Navorski’s assistance as an interpreter proves himself to be a freedom fighter.
Whether or not this is some of Spielberg’s best work, it is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.
If you go in knowing that the unlikeliest of circumstances serve as the premise, then perhaps you’re a little more forgiving of the liberties that Spielberg and writers Andrew Niccol and Sacha Gervasi take.
But, go along for the ride and enjoy. Hanks is a treasure – you’ll want to adopt Navorski by film’s end.

Rated PG-13: brief language and drug references

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