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  The Terminal      

Language:ENGLISH
Director:Steven Spielberg
Producer:Steven Spielberg, Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna
Official website: http://www.theterminal-themovie.com/

 
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By Subhash K. Jha

Steven Spielberg is said to be the most successful filmmaker of all times, although all his films haven't been huge or even minor successes. For every "ET" there was "Always" and for every "Jurassic Park" there's a "Catch Me If You Can".

In Spielberg's last directorial undertaking "Catch Me...", Tom Hanks had played a tired, almost retired, cop looking out for a chameleon thief. It was a great role for a truly great actor. Hanks is undoubtedly one of the most versatile actors from Hollywood. Like our own Sanjeev Kumar, Hanks's 'Everyman' appearance helps him to merge into working-class roles to the extent that the actor and character become one.

In some unexpected ways Hanks' new star-turn with Spielberg in "The Terminal" is akin to his role of a marooned air-crash survivor in "Castaway" two years ago. Whereas there Hanks had to survive alone, in "The Terminal" he must find his way through uncaring throngs of people on the crowded JFK airport.

In "Castaway" Hanks' problem was... too little. In "The Terminal" it's too much. These two extremes, if you look at them carefully, tend to bend into one unified mass when looked at from certain angles. Hence, Chuck Noland in "Castaway" and Viktor Navorski in "The Terminal" are bonded in a beautiful debate between abject stillness and unmitigated bustle.

Spielberg's mastery at portraying the solitude of a traveller in crowded jostling places is remarkable. The film rewrites many laws of adventure storytelling by making the protagonist a foreigner from an East European country with little access to the workings of the American Dream.

How Viktor punctures the dream serves as both a parable on alienation and a comment on the spirit of survival.

Viktor is on a simple, noble mission. What the mission is we don't know until the highly sentimental ending, where Viktor, jazz music, nostalgia and patriotism mingle in a glorious gush.

Most of the film's unabashedly baby's-day-out adventures unfold in the swarming airport (recreated with brilliant meticulousness by the art designer who makes the airport look like a place of crowded despair). As passengers come and go, the narration ambles forward with poor lost Viktor trying to find his way out of the maze.

Many sections of the film pay a backhanded tribute to Charlie Chaplin's tramp-like journey through zany adventures. The airport as an oyster of cultural displacement is a devious device employed to the fullest by a director who can tug at heartstrings without letting the body of the work fall apart.

Regrettably the protagonist is many steps ahead of the plot. While Hanks' Viktor fills us with a warm admiration for his acute sense of survival in a hostile land, the script seems swamped with blind spots.

Some moments (for example, the desperate random traveller trying to smuggle medicine for his ailing father out of the US) are so mawkish, you wonder how or why Spielberg needed to turn so soppy to generate interest in his one-man-against-the-world story.

The ingenuity of the basic premise (what does a foreigner with no knowledge of the English language do when he's stranded on the American airport?) begins to wear thin after a while. Repetitive and dead-end moments are propped up by two romantic interludes, one featuring a young airport staff (Diego Luna) who adores the girl at the visa counter (the lovely Zoe Saldana) but doesn't have the courage to speak his heart out.

Viktor as the wily go-between who exchanges meals stolen from aircrafts for the job of informing the visa-girl about her smitten colleague is the perfect un-stupid Cupid. His own liaison with the stunning Catherine Zeta-Jones (playing an airhostess with a string of unfortunate amorous associations behind her) is too manufactured to be real, too fragmented to be a part of the larger picture.

The Zeta-Jones-Hanks angle is, at best, like the enforced romantic interests in our films. This couple doesn't sing songs. It serenades in a hilarious dinner sequence in a secluded part of the airport as the Indian janitor (Kumar Pallana) juggles plates for entertainment.

What finally holds this dangerously sentimental odyssey into the heart of a lonely traveller is the cat-and-mouse game between immigration officer Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) and Viktor. The mirthful yet disturbing attempts by the airport authority to get rid of the superfluous immigrant is at once a sober comment on the suspicion and hostility towards migrants in the US after 9/11, and a quirky game of oneupmanship between a shrewd figure of authority and a rather guileless traveller who slowly learns the art of survival.

It is on this level that "The Terminal" works swimmingly, swinging into the scheme of Spielberg's soppy storytelling with a slicing whoosh like a jet taking off for a distant but sure destination.

Hanks is habitually in control. His shifty personality always renders itself effectually to roles about emotionally and geopolitically translocated souls. Here, Hanks sees the humour of the situation as much as its pathos. He careens between the two extremes with poise.

He gets splendid support from the group of airport personnel played by Chee McBride, Diego Luna and others. Kumar Pallana as an illegal immigrant from Chennai working in the JFK airport is especially interesting. But, hello, what kind of a name is Gupta Rajan -- scrambled research?

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