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home : news : news : headline stories
Review: Latest Spielberg film filled with infectious humor, romance, charm
BOB MUNDY , For the Nonpareil 06/27/2004
I cannot for the life of me imagine who wouldn't love "The Terminal." You might not think the story of a man marooned in the terminal of New York City's J.F.K. airport could hold your interest. But it does, from start to finish. Written by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson and directed by the Steven Spielberg, it has charm, romance, infectious humor and an old-fashioned have-nots outfox the haves ingredient not seen much in recent years.

Victor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is an unlucky man. Just as he arrives in America, the government in his homeland (a fictional Eastern European country) ceases to exist. It has been deposed by a military coup. His worthless passport has been taken by the airport authorities. He cannot return to his country, nor can he exit the terminal and enter the United States. He is a citizen of nowhere. Victor's great bad luck is that the man who controls his destiny is Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci is superb, we despise him but we lap up his performance).

Frank epitomizes the bureaucratic mentality we mock, fear and resent. Even worse, he is ambitious and craves promotion to the post of Airport Field Commissioner. In our new fear-of-terrorism environment, it is clear Frank knows Victor is not a threat to anyone, yet he will do or say anything to avoid future criticism of how he handles this homeless man.

Partly because Victor knows very little English, Frank underestimates him. That changes when Victor begins to learn the language by watching television monitors, hanging out at Borders and making friends with the community of minimum wage terminal workers. When Frank tries to get rid of him by coaching him to say he is fearful of returning to his country, Victor fouls up this option by truthfully answering that he's afraid of "this room," oh, and also "ghosts."

Victor is a survivor. For a time he lives on ketchup and mustard cracker sandwiches, then barters for food with a lovesick food service worker (Diego Luna as Enrique) who uses him as an intermediary with the girl of his dreams. Eventually, he finds work as a skilled carpenter on a terminal construction project. By the time Victor's fate is resolved, he will meet, among others, a beautiful flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones as Amelia) and several other blue-collar workers including Gupta (Kuman Pallana), a custodian wanted on murder charges in his native India.

Much of this is gloriously unrealistic, but no less charming what with a cast of wonderful characters who somehow seem genuine in spite of being exaggerated. And once again Tom Hanks demonstrates that his behind-the-scenes skill at spotting a good story is as finely developed as the performances he gives on screen. In this case it is often non-verbal. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, so, too, is the body language and nuanced expressions of Tom Hanks in "The Terminal."


©Daily Nonpareil 2004
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