The Terminal (2004)


RB score:  10/10

“The Terminal” is a movie that should have been nominated for and maybe won an Academy award or two.  I am perpetually mystified that it did not.    There is much in this movie to appreciate, starting of course with Tom Hanks as the displaced traveler Viktor (from the fictitious Krakohzia) forced to subsist in the international terminal at JFK until his situation can be sorted out….. and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Amelia, the world weary international flight attendant.  The relationship between them is not itself the main storyline but rather a thread in the fabric that does not overwhelm the more all-encompassing themes of the movie.  That thread is played out with subtlety and echoes life more than art.  Count that as being among the film’s many charms.  Actually, 2 such threads, help to keep this movie out of generic romcom land, resulting from some nice performances;  Zoe Saldana, the Immigrations officer along with charismatic Diego Luna as the airport catering van driver who has been admiring her from afar.  In The Terminal, the most prominent theme has to do with humanity vs. bureaucracy.


Ridiculous as the bureaucracy might seem, bureaucracy in real life, certainly in the airport setting, often is that way.  To that end,  Stanley Tucci as the Customs official plays an especially keen antagonist.   He’s an interesting element as the chief villain; one who is not an inherently bad person and not a bad guy according to any movie stereotype.   It’s about his character, often seen in the real world,  having more ambition than compassion yet not devoid of the latter. He is limited by his identification with his role at the airport, to the point where he recognizes humanity in others, but either doesn’t know  or doesn’t care what is lacking in his own soul.   Other supporting cast members similarly avoid stereotype and make up a well played ensemble including then-85 year old Indian actor, Kumar Pallana.  Pallana is an amazing dose of humanity in this world.   Without giving any spoilers, he owns every scene where he appears, including that one that is the true apex in the storyline.


The international flavor of the cast dovetails beautifully with both the setting and the storyline of this movie.  It is all tied together expertly under the direction of Steven Spielberg, so again I’m not understanding why no Oscar nods.  The concept of the movie isn’t one that has been done to death,  and it engages the viewer from start to finish, containing just enough realism to support the script where more liberties are taken.   In the rough and tumble world of airport or airline employees,  solid friendships develop that cross international and political boundaries.  Credit to the writers for correctly capturing this sort of underworld.  The music by master composer John Williams as always, is perfect.

The comic scene where Viktor, knowing that Amelia likes to go out for nice dinners, contrives a “restaurant” on a terminal patio, is one of those scenes I can never tire of watching due to the perfect blend of physical comedy along with the plotline.  Like some other scenes, it crosses into the land of impossibility due to the restrictions that are placed even on employees but the lack of realism there is completely outweighed by the capture of that sense of being suspended in time and reality that used to be the romance of air travel.  That being a cliche, another one of this movie’s  strengths is how Spielberg mines new content from the more familiar themes.

Some differences of opinion occurred in the critic ranks.  For the critics who were a bit more snarky, I wonder if part of some discontent is due to the ending, the way Spielberg wraps it all up.   The ending plays out oddly anticlimactic given all the action that preceded it, although that is not a weakness, in fact I give Spielberg much credit for fashioning an intelligent ending that ties things together while still giving the engaged viewer enough canvas on which to paint.    There is a climactic moment that doesn’t  occur when the audiences are most used to it, and again that moment belongs to Gupta.  if that isn’t apparent on first viewing, subsequent viewings will make it clear.  Everything that happens after that scene flows from it as a resolution, which may not be quite what audiences are conditioned to expect….resulting in “The Terminal” being one of those movies that invites repeated viewings.


2 thoughts on “The Terminal (2004)

  1. Hi RB.
    It’s a pity I haven’t seen any of the films you’ve reviewed so far, so I can’t offer any insight, but I really enjoy your writing.
    You’ve got a lovely style and I hope you post more often in the future.

    Have a nice weekend.

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