Spielberg's latest far from 'Terminal'
Hanks makes this a layover worth taking

by Tony Sams
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Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" is a filmmaking exercise in the sublime and effortless.

In fact, does it even seem like Spielberg has to put real effort into his movies anymore? My mental image of Spielberg has him walking onto the set each day in sneakers and a baseball cap, casually telling people what he wants, filming it and going home -- hey, no big deal.

I know that Spielberg, however, can't do everything himself, and perhaps one of the reasons his movies are so good is that he consistently works with the same people: film editor Michael Kahn (three Oscars from working with Spielberg); cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (two Oscars with Spielberg); and composer John Williams (three Oscars with Spielberg), all on board this time for "The Terminal."

Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, the kind of sappy, lovable character that Hanks was born to play. Navorski is en route to New York when his homeland, the fictitious Eastern European country of Krakozia, experiences a military coup. The U.S. no longer recognizes his passport and visa, but he's also not considered an illegal. As the local airport security chief Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) says, "You're unacceptable."

Navorski is essentially stuck in limbo at JFK Airport (nearly every shot is filmed on a gigantic set, not actually in an airport -- and it's so detailed that if you didn't know it was a set, you wouldn't guess otherwise). He's innocent and honest; when given chances to escape, he doesn't; when given a chance to lie and leave, he doesn't. He's a nice guy all around, and Hanks makes it damn near impossible to hold an ounce of malice toward Navorski.

There's more to it than just the wait. About four or five little subplots surround this prolonged layover, all of which stick except one -- a blooming love interest in Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a flight attendant who runs into Navorski every time she swings through New York. It's a story line that feels a little wasted as merely a subplot, and it could be a film all on its own.

I was struck by how comfortable I felt watching this movie. It's a very subtle, reflexive film, and there's no doubt a little bit of patience will be required. The thin plot unravels slowly. We're given a lot of time to absorb our surroundings and get to know the characters. It's a movie that could make you laugh as well as well up with tears, but nothing feels forced.

Spielberg has done a nice service to his audience: "The Terminal" is a good movie and good break from the hour-to-hour rat race.