out of 4
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|*Also starring: ||Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Eddie Jones, Scott Adsit, Helena Barrett, Anastasia Basil, Rini Bell, Stephon Fuller||
Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4
There are few punishments more excruciating than waiting for a
delayed flight. I recall having to slumber down for fourteen hours
at JFK for a charter flight to Tenerife. We couldn't go home since
the delayed flight could arrive from Logan Airport in Boston at any
moment, then to continue on its way to New York to pick us up.
Imagine having to wait for such a flight not for 13 hours, not even
thirteen days, but for nine months! If one of Steven Spielberg's
more earthbound films were not fiction, Viktor Navorski (Tom
Hanks) could easily make the Guinness Book of World Records
for his plight. While in real life a guy in his predicament would
probably be shuttled off to a federal detention center to await U.S.
recognition for his country and thereby recertify his visa,
Spielberg's imagination allows us easily to put ourselves into
Viktor's well-worn shoes in a film that's part romance, part
friendship, a microcosm of nothing less than the glorious diversity
of the entire United States.
In a screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, Spielberg
takes us into the constricted world of Viktor Navorski who has
come to New York for a purpose not disclosed until the story's
concluding moments. (Hint: The answer lies in the tin of Planter's
Peanuts that he carries around as a possible Maguffin.) His
purpose in testing our waters is not important, however. What is
significant is that when he arrives, his visa is not acceptable since
his Eastern European country had undergone a coup while Viktor
was airborne and, since the U.S. was to take its time in
recognizing the new regime, he was for nine months a man
without a country. The officious new head of homeland security at
JFK, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), insisted that he not leave the
terminal, that he must not step outside on American soil until the
proper clearance is given by the federal government. (Never mind
that the airport is "American soil.")
The picture, then, shows us what we never saw on that "Cheers"
episode in which Woody Harrelson, given a ticket to Europe, winds
up spending all his time at the airport talking to visitors the world
over and forgets about taking the trip. In short, during his
extended delay, he becomes good buddies with a cross-section of
working-class Americans–a security officer (Chi McBride), a janitor
(Kuman Pallan), a member of the kitchen staff, and not necessarily
the most important, a flight attendant, Amelia Warren (Catherine
Zeta-Jones), who is a 39-year-old self-described mess because
she continues to wait for her lover to quit his wife.
Spielberg milks the story not only for physical humor (the janitor,
Gupta Rajan, gets his jollies watching people slip and fall on his
newly polished floor, for romance (Viktor takes Amelia to an Italian
"restaurant," a makeshift place on a patio set up by his friends
including some juggling for their entertainment), and or the
important role that friendship plays in the lives of people who are
not entirely fulfilled by their jobs.
Most of all, though, "The Terminal" is Spielberg's love letter to
America, land of glorious diversity, where bureaucratic bosses are
creeps (Tucci in his usual villainous role goes by the book in
refusing to let Viktor leave the airport), frustrating the honest needs
of human beings for compassion. While the weaving is not as
broad as that which makes a tapestry of "Schindler's List,"
Spielberg succeeds in professing his belief in the power of a
single, ordinary individual made heroic by extraordinary
circumstances. Viktor Novarski, like Oskar Schindler, has made
the best of a bad situation, enriching the lives of all who make his
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten
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