The Terminal (2004) from JK

In the silly parade of summer flicks, we search for the few shiny bright spots that might come our way.  “The Terminal” is such a gem. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg team once again to bring us first class entertainment.  Hanks brings us one of his best performances and Spielberg shows us his versatility in this finely honed comedy.  In a season of movie special effects overload, we welcome this most human and character-driven story.

Viktor Navorski, played by Hanks, is a man without a country or a passport, trapped in JFK Airport until further notice.  He knows very little English and has no money.  The only thing to do is to set about establishing a resourceful and enduring survival.  The film is not driven by the story line, but by the performance of Tom Hanks, who builds Viktor Navorski with a true character actor’s dedication.  The Baltic accent is precise but it is not played for laughs.  The accent is part of Viktor and the laughs come separately, surprisingly and often.  The character is simple and therefore complicated.  To the dismay of Viktor’s detractors, what they see is what they get.  To the wonder of Viktor’s friends, what they see is what they get.  Then, just as we begin to like Viktor too much, Hanks shows us Viktor’s crusty elements.  The temptation to go overboard is held in check at the right moments and the actor’s subtly precise shuffle, shrug or expression tells us that he is indeed Viktor Navorski.

Stanley Tucci does a fine job of turning the thankless role of the officious Customs inspector into a human being we may have met somewhere before.  In a role which could easily have been portrayed as a one-dimensional, overbearing martinet, Tucci creates a character study. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones is Amelia, an eighteen year veteran flight attendant.  Her extraneous character contributes virtually nothing to the plot and her morally confused character contributes virtuously nothing to Viktor.  But we are glad to see her for obvious reasons.  She is the only female in what would otherwise be an almost all male cast.  She also is the script's device for establishing Viktor’s vulnerability.



The supporting roles are cast well, and an over-the-top performance by Kumar Pallana as the janitor is particularly welcome.


And Toto, too?  There is a storm brewing in Viktor’s homeland.  He boards a Boeing 747 and flies somewhere over the rainbow to JFK Airport, in the land of Oz.  At JFK, he immediately encounters the wicked witch in the form of a customs official.  The official can’t harm Viktor, but he can confine him to the terminal and cause our traveler trouble.  Viktor is welcomed by the Munchkin employees of the terminal and they set about helping him get to Manhattan, the Emerald City.  Along the way, he befriends a janitor who lacks courage, a food worker who needs a heart, and a baggage handler who could use a brain or two.  (There is no singing.)  Viktor and friends dodge the natural pitfalls of the terminal and are frequently besieged by the wicked witch who launches various attacks from his administrative castle high on the second floor.  With the help of his friends, Viktor at last reaches the Emerald City and is blessed by the wizard.  The three friends learn the only way to true happiness is for each of them to confront and conquer his own problem.  The storm is over in Viktor’s native land and he once again boards a 747 because, after all, there is no place like home.


DVD info not yet available

The movie making team of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg has conquered both ends of the spectrum - from “Saving Private Ryan” to “The Terminal”. In a surgically fine performance by Hanks and restrained direction from Spielberg, we can find joy in this summer cinema fare.   

“The Terminal” is awarded an ear-to-ear three and a half Milk Duds.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus three stars and then some. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

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