Anyone who knows me or has even an inkling of what my reviews are like know I love almost everything Spielberg does, and Spielberg manages, through “The Terminal” to create a sense of something that all comedies lack: humanity, and through its humanity, comedy that is all so amusing and likable (I laughed aloud whenever Navorski looked into the surveillance cameras). Spielberg creates a film in the Capra-esque sensibility and it creates human characters that people can love and or feel sorry for in the process. Viktor Navorski is now a man without a country after his beloved country of Krakozhia engages in a coup and war breaks loose. His passport, visa, and anything else he owns are now deemed confederate dollar rendered basically useless. The problem is he can not step foot in America, and he can not go back home, so now he’s marooned in the airport.
Now Navorski must find a way to survive and intends on doing so as he garners friendships with workers and security guards but will not leave until his goal is set. What’s magnificent about this is the feeling of isolation and alienation in a foreign country is beautifully and firmly established by Spielberg amidst the story. The shot where we zoom back amidst Navorski who is in the middle of the epicenter of the airport and foreigners and so incredibly shows his feeling of fright in a foreign land. The direction is crisp and beautiful and the airport becomes a basic wonderland filled with plains, rooms, and possibilities. It becomes its own character, at first we see it as a labyrinth and maze with terrifying floors and faceless people, and then it tends to become a warm welcoming abode for Viktor who makes it warm and welcoming for his own convenience.
He’s the little man, the lost foreigner lost in the system who you root for, and you want to root for him, and his small tribulation is our large one, his big triumph is ours and you want him to succeed and that, in part, is accomplished through hanks’ purely likable on-screen presence, through his ability, through sheer talent, to transform into this average every man, and it works. Hanks is very believable and so damn good here. He has it, he’s likable, lovable, and he makes this character of Navorski so much of a hero who is surviving, and he’s smart as the many scenes where Tucci tries to outwit him explain. Navorski is a pure man with intentions that remain mysterious throughout the movie, Hanks never seems like a spoofing of a foreigner, and he never overacts his part, never overacts his accent, and never looks like a caricature.
Much like the characters here, he’s human and Hanks accomplishes such a feat with much charm and warmth. Navorski has no mean spirit, no motives for America, he just wants to survive and go about his business but he is tested. There is one scene where Tucci’s character tells Navorski that he can escape if he wants, that America soil is only feet away and Tucci declares that once Navorski makes a run for the exit, he’ll be someone else’s problems, but Navorski never bites for the bait, he never makes a flee because he’s willing to wait for his goal in life, he wants to take his licks like everyone else and his character’s true spirit is shown through that action. What he intends on doing in America remains a mystery throughout the movie, and it shall to you as well.
There are an array of characters in the movie, one being a beautiful stewardess named Amelia whom Navorski meets periodically throughout the movie, both have been alienated in life and both form a very special friendship throughout their lives as they cross paths, but Amelia is unaware of Navorski’s marooning in the airport. There is a wonderful scene in which Navorski’s character helps in the translation of a psychotic Russian immigrant, a sequences that is not only beautifully done by Spielberg, but accentuates Navorski’s character very well. He helps the Russian immigrant get medicine to his family, and there’s a special twist that I won’t give away, but it is a well done scene on all fronts of the film from Hanks to Spielberg.
There is a lot to like here, because along with Hanks and Jones, we have some other great supporting actors who give great performances with an array of great characters. There are people like Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, Stanley Tucci, and Zoe Saldana and within the large plot of a man trying to find his way back home, we also have tiny great sub-plots including Luna’s who plays a food cart driver who is in love with Saldana’s character, an INS officer, and Navorski helps his character in romancing her and boy is it a really good subplot within the central narrative. Nonetheless, “The Terminal” is its own grand epic through a small tale of a man trying to find his way home, and through its humanity and story plants us in our seats to watch all the way through. While we never truly get the sense of any danger in the main character’s situation, “The Terminal” is a crowd-pleasing and entertaining film about humanity and heart with excellent performances and competent directing from Spielberg.