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Tom Hanks makes calculated ‘Terminal' take off
By Bruce R. Miller Journal staff writer

Tom Hanks sets up a home in an abandoned airport gate in "The Terminal," the story of a man forced to stay at a terminal while his immigration problems are handled.

No man is an island -- unless he's Viktor Navorski, a foreigner stuck in New York's JFK airport.

Because his country is at war, no one will let him enter the United States or return to Krakozhia. That means, he's a prisoner of "The Terminal."

Thanks to Tom Hanks' amazing performance, the stay is hardly uneventful. Like a silent film comedian, Hanks does plenty with physical humor -- pratfalls, goofy faces, telling gestures. Nine months at the airport becomes nine months of growth -- for him and those who come to know him.

Unfortunately, the one man who could remove him from limbo (Stanley Tucci) is determined to make an example of him -- and further his own career.

The two square off repeatedly but Navorski never gives in.

"The Terminal" is, in many ways, the story of countless immigrants, forced to deal with a system that's not entirely friendly. It hints at broader issues as well, but director Steven Spielberg never gets too heavy with anything. He's more interested in telling a winsome, heartwrenching story and that he does quite nicely.

Catherine Zeta-Jones turns up at one point as a flight attendant who just happens to run into Navorski. They have an ongoing relationship and, finally, a date. Because the foreigner has made friends with so many airport workers, they help him pull off a magical evening with the flight attendant.

Everything is so contrived -- from the kinds of stores featured in the terminal to the total lack of media attention to the case -- it's hard to believe much of what Spielberg throws at us. Coincidence and convenience are key to pulling this off. The terminal Navorski inhabits, in fact, doesn't exist. (When was the last time you bought a suit at an airport?) Still, Hanks moves through the story so effortlessly, you believe everything he does -- even the huge wall mural that would have taken an artist six months to finish.

While Tucci, Zeta-Jones and a handful of others are good, they don't detract from Hanks who takes his work in "Castaway," tweaks it and emerges with a performance that ranks among his best. When it's revealed why Viktor wanted to come to America, "The Terminal" prompts its first tears. When Viktor finally gets his time in the Big Apple, more come.

Clearly, Hanks and Spielberg know emotion. Heart-tugging moments are as calculated as flight delays but they don't keep the film from taking off. The Terminal" soars because Tom Hanks knows how to play this stuff better than just about anyone. He's the movie industry equivalent of flight insurance. And with "The Terminal" he pays big dividends to just about everyone.

Rated PG-13, "The Terminal" features some adult talk and situations.

On a scale of four stars, "The Terminal" gets:

3 stars

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