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USA 2004
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
129 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Luke Jackson
1 stars

The Terminal

Synopsis:After arriving at JFK Airport, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) discovers that his homeland of Krakozhia has been plunged into a state of civil war. Until the United States decides to recognise Krakozhia's new government, Navorski has fallen through a crack in the system: he can't go home, and he can't enter the US, so he will have to remain in 'the terminal'. And what should he do while he waits? What any sane person would do on an extended stopover at JFK: shop.

Not satisfied with being a light-hearted romantic comedy - and not succeeding anyhow - The Terminal attempts to raise a series of tough issues. The first is the domain of the frequent flyer - the feeling of 'being stuc'. Each of the film's characters is 'stuck' in one way or another: Navorski is physically locked in the terminal and bound by a promise he made long ago; the migrants around him are stuck in unskilled jobs; the Director of Security (Stanley Tucci) is stuck in a cycle of punishment and self-loathing and Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Viktor's love interest, is stuck in a chain of 'terminal' relationships. Unfortunately, each character's story is eventually resolved in the most convenient way possible, making true character development impossible.

After his arrival, Viktor is denied an interpreter or temporary travel visa, watched by his captors, Big Brother-style via closed-circuit TV, and constantly harassed by the Airport's two-dimensional Security Director, Frank Dixon. But this is not, as it might first appear, clever commentary on the inhumanity of the Homeland Securities Act. While seemingly questioning American politics post-September 11, The Terminal is a thinly-veiled advertisement pitching New York and, by extension, the rest of the United States, as a viable travel option to the wary traveller. How many times do we have to be reminded of the number of satisfied passengers flooding through JFK? Is it necessary to tell the audience that each passenger is processed within 60 seconds? And, for all the suggestions that he's the 'bad guy' of the film, Security Director Dixon excels at his job, sniffing out cocaine hidden in walnuts, and recognising Mickey Mouse T-shirt wearing 'tourists' as illegal immigrants.

Of course, illegal immigration is a big issue in America, where some major industries only survive by paying near-slave wages to illegal workers. Viktor Navorski's journey can be seen, in many ways, to parallel the experience of these people. Having been handed an insufficient number of food stamps, he must find sustenance and shelter wherever possible, and learn English without assistance. It's only after he is identified as a skilled carpenter that he's given regular work within the Airport, for which he is paid 'under the table'. But if this is truly an attempt to hold a mirror up to mainstream America, why use Tom Hanks to play the downtrodden leader of the people? Surely there are European actors with the talent and training required for the role? The unnamed Albanian halfway through the film, for instance, holding a blade to his throat after security officers try to confiscate the pills that will save his father's life. Unlike Hanks, he actually speaks the language, and his tears look disturbingly real.

Even the seemingly humanitarian premise of the traveller unfairly lost in the system - the only connection between this fabrication and the true story of stranded Iranian refugee Merhan Nesseri, the supposed inspiration for the film - is undermined by blatant product placement. Understandably panic-stricken about the fate of Krakozhia, Viktor is glued to CNN; starving, he eats at Burger King; thirsty, he drinks at Starbucks; wanting to impress the lady in his life, he buys a snappy suit from Hugo Boss. "One hundred and fifty dollars on sale," he tells her. "A bargain." Disappointing from someone less competent, The Terminal is a shameful offering from Spielberg. I give one star to the supporting cast. Or is that 'underclass'?




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