Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Review #612: 'The Terminal' (2004)

Film-makers frequently find themselves going back to basics or back to their roots in order to find inspiration, rather than seeking innovation. Two of Hollywood's arguably most powerful men - Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks - did precisely this back in 2004 with the release of The Terminal, apparently based on the 18-year stay at Charles de Gaulle airport experienced by Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri (although the film-makers and producers have failed to acknowledge it). Spielberg had been striving for bid-budget, CGI-laden blockbusters such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002), and historical epics like Amistad (1997) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), before he made The Terminal. Although those films were generally good to very good, Spielberg returned to something more simple and heartfelt; something in the vein of Frank Capra or Billy Wilder, who combined sentiment and romanticism to such a glorious effect. Well, to be frank, he shouldn't have bothered.

Victor Navorski (Hanks) arrives at JFK International Airport from his (fictional) home country of Krakozhia, with the intention of getting the autograph of a famous jazz musician who was loved by his late father in New York. Though what he doesn't know is that Krakozhia's government has been overthrown, leading do a devastating civil war. This puts Head of CPB Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) in a difficult situation, as America no longer recognises Krakozhia as a country, voiding Victor's passport and cancelling his right to leave the airport doors. So Victor sets up home in the terminal, making money by returning baggage carts back to their holders for 25 cents a cart, and befriending the various oddballs and desperado's in the airport. He also meets flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an emotionally unstable woman who is in a relationship with a married man. Despite Dixon's frequent attempts to thwart Victor's activities, Victor becomes extremely popular with the airport's inhabitants by performing various good deeds.

If there is one thing that Spielberg's movies are frequently lambasted for, it is for their cloying sentimentality. Even his darkest output, such as Minority Report and Munich (2005) had their moments of emotional embraces to the sound of a string score that felt shoe-horned in. With The Terminal, Spielberg has gone all-out with the rom-com aesthetic. The result is a manipulating and almost fraudulent throw-back to the great Cary Grant films of the 1930's, capturing none of the magic of Spielberg's idols. Hanks is good value as always, but the character of Victor is almost offensive in it's stereotyping of the simple, almost idiotic foreigner.

The collection of supporting characters don't fair much better either, with Dixon's Hitler-esque CPB man raising questions as to the reasons behind his hatred for Victor. Everyone else seems to like him, even his own men, so is he doing it for career progression? His own soon-to-be-retiring boss informs him that empathy and humanity are key to the job, and if Dixon needs to be told this, then how has he gotten as far as he has up to now? Zeta-Jones's Andrea at least puts a different spin on the familiar rom-com heroine, with her erratic behaviour and questionable decision-making at least adding a bit of dimension. The most impressive aspect of the film is actually the set, built from scratch after no airport agreed to allow Spielberg to film for such an extended amount of time, and this, if anything, adds a flow to the way the film is captured. But when the set is the best thing about a film, you know you're in trouble, and this is undoubtedly one of Spielberg's worst efforts.

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana
Country: USA

Rating: **

Tom Gillespie

The Terminal (2004) on IMDb

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