The Terminal

2 stars


12th September 2004

Airports are pretty shitty places. All of the food tastes like it was baked in a Fisher Price oven, everyone seems to have skin a worrying shade of Fanta orange and when you're not being ferried through little roped off pathways and herded like cattle into big metal buses, you're being eyed suspiciously and being made to feel like a terrorist (taking a Michael Moore book through customs is never a good idea). You'd imagine, then, that living in one would be a living hell. Not in the sugarcoated world of Steven Spielberg, in which being stuck in an airport is one long jolly, interspersed with romantic interludes, international bonding and slapstick comedy.

Tom Hanks is Viktor Navorski, a resident of Krakozhia (it's a made up country, put down your atlas) who arrives at JFK airport in New York only to discover his homeland has been subject to a vicious military coup. Denied entry to US soil on the grounds that his country no longer exists anymore and unable to fly home, Viktor is effectively stranded in the airport's International Terminal, a place he is forced to make his home for the foreseeable future. All the while, Stanley Tucci's uptight security chief is constantly looking for a way to sweep his Krakohzian problem under a rug, although Viktor doesn't seem to be quite as helpless he looks.

For a movie based on a true story (an Iranian refugee has been living in Charles DeGaulle airport since 1988) The Terminal sure does have a problem getting a grasp on reality. To begin with, the character of Viktor Navorski is so broadly drawn, it's impossible to think of him as anything but a comedy foreigner, with his pidgin English grating after only a few short minutes. Tucci's security officer is a closed book, a character so poorly written, you half expect him to start shaking his fists in cartoonish frustration when his constant attempts to outwit Viktor are foiled. He's mean, he's rude, he's devious and he's never more than a textbook villain when he could have been so much more, especially in this paranoid post 9/11 environment. Expect boos, hisses etc.

The very fact that a smelly, chubby, poorly dressed Russian stereotype can end up dating Catherine Zeta Jones should give you an inkling of exactly what kind of film The Terminal is. The romantic angle doesn't work at all, the pairing have zero chemistry and not a single part of their relationship feels natural - Zeta Jones' trolley dolley asks out Hanks' crazy tramp TWICE in their first three meetings, despite being a glamorous high flyer with a rich partner on the side. Since when do total strangers meet in airport lounges and start talking about their sex lives? Would a poverty-stricken Eastern European really find a Western spoilt rich girl attractive, particularly one as vacuous as Zeta Jones' character? Why should we believe these two would fall for each other again? E.T. had a more believable story.

Not only have you got undoubtedly fine actors trapped by flat, lifeless characters, you've got the best director in the world stuck directing a straightforward, uninteresting story, with almost no room for visual flair. Sure, the terminal set (built full-scale entirely for the movie) looks pretty and is definitely an impressive engineering feat, but it's still dull and soulless, how airports are supposed to look - Burger Kings and airport bathrooms do not make for exciting locations. Compared to the fast-paced story and retro chic of Catch Me If You Can and the colour-bleached dystopian future of Minority Report, The Terminal is Spielberg's most visually uninspiring film in years.

The Terminal has no robots, no dinosaurs, no killer trucks, no aliens (well, some illegal ones but no extra-terrestrial ones) and no sharks - all Spielberg is relying on is the human element of the film to keep us interested, but when your main characters are as poorly realised as they are here, there's almost nothing to recommend aside from another fine John Williams score and an excellent small role for Kumar Pallana. Spielberg's insistence on schmaltz is slowly starting to tarnish his reputation, and he proves yet again that he can't finish a movie without pouring on the saccharine like a snowglobe. Everything about The Terminal is distinctly ordinary, and for a director like Spielberg, that's one of the worst insults he can receive.

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This