FBMR - The Terminal
Film-Buff Movie Reviews

THE TERMINAL (2004) ***

This film is not without its problems or implausibilities. I liked this movie, but it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be according to everyone I’ve spoken to. The aspect I liked the best about this film was its concept, and how similar yet very different it was to another Tom Hanks vehicle, CAST AWAY. Both films are driven by Hanks’ character, and both are stranded in one place for a very long time. CAST AWAY took place on a deserted island, whereas here we hardly ever leave the airport. But Chuck Nolan was all alone and Viktor Navorski is surrounded by hundreds of people all the time.

Viktor Navorski (Hanks) arrives at New York City’s JFK airport only to discover that, while in the air, the government of his eastern European country (the fictitious Krakozhia) has been overthrown. The country is instable and the leaders of the coup have suspended all flights in and out of Krakozhia and have sealed all borders which render his passport and visa invalid. Viktor is a citizen of nowhere. He cannot enter the United States, nor can he return home. He is not even eligible for asylum, refugee status, temporary protection status (the list goes on) because technically his country, as is recognized by the United States, does not exist. He is simply … unacceptable. The only place he can stay is in the International terminal. The airport chief, Frank Dixon, (Stanley Tucci) reluctantly allows him to stay at an abandoned gate until things settle or, as Dixon hopes, Viktor gets tired or waiting and tries to make a break for it which would land him in prison, but at least out of the airport, and no longer Dixon’s problem. But Viktor decides to wait, and wait, and wait … days, and weeks, and months.

The major problem I had with this film is the language barrier. Viktor, upon arriving, knows simply how to say yes, get a taxi, and say where he wants to go. The airport police and personnel don’t really try to make themselves understood. They could have used gestures more, used smaller words that he might have been able to understand, but they didn’t. The Krakozhian alphabet is very different from the English one, yet Viktor seems to be able to read and pronounce, albeit with an accent, some tricky words. I can say a few phrases in a number of foreign languages because I learned them phonetically. I can make the sounds … but ask me to read anything in Greek, Russian, or Cantonese … forget it. If Viktor had been a teacher, and knew a little more than a few very broken words in English upon arrival, and had been able to understand the English that was spoken to him, I would have had a much easier time believing how quickly he picked up not only speaking, but reading English and translating from Krakozhian.

But that aside, the movie was entertaining, fun, and sweet. It was also sometimes frustrating when people in authority simply will not bend the rules, or help others out, or basically be kind. But it takes all kinds to make the world.

A personal highlight was a scene where Viktor is asked to help translate for a Russian passenger being detained because he doesn’t have the proper paperwork to allow him to bring medicine into the United States (even though the Russian is connecting on through to Canada). I also liked the way Viktor began to make friends with the other people who worked in the airport. The seemingly obligatory romance between Viktor and flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) was unnecessary; the movie still could have worked without it.

Spielberg and Hanks have both done better work, but they have both done worse as well. This was a nice movie.