This may be minor Spielberg, but its wholeheartedness makes it worth the trip to the JFK airport in New York where an Eastern European man is stuck without citizenship, played with earnest charm by Tom Hanks.
Dir. Steven Spielberg
2004 | USA | Comedy/Drama/Romance | 129 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Bulgarian
PG (passed clean) for brief language and drug references
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana
Plot: When an Eastern immigrant is denied entry into the United States, he finds that he cannot return to his home country due to a revolution and must instead make JFK airport his new home.
Subject Matter: Light – Stranded in Airport; Human Connection
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Steven Spielberg’s third collaboration with Tom Hanks after Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal may be a minor and ultimately inconsequential work by the American master director, but I like its earnestness and sentimentalism enough to find pleasure in it.
Set in the JFK airport in New York, we see Viktor (Hanks), an Eastern European man who gets stuck without citizenship after his country of Krakozhia (a fictional place modelled after an Eastern bloc state) had been overtaken by a military coup during his flight to America.
With nowhere to go (he can’t fly home, nor can he enter America), Viktor becomes content with making himself at home at the airport.
“Amelia, would you like an eat to bite?”
The beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones plays opposite Hanks as an air stewardess whom he shares an intimate connection with. But this is Hanks’ film as he charmingly pulls off a thick accent and some rather good comedy chops.
Some might find this to be one of Spielberg’s dullest movies, aesthetically that is—well, after all, how much more can one do to make an airport look visually pleasing? Little subplots and a cast of oddball characters do the trick as Spielberg focuses more on Viktor’s human connection with various characters.
John Williams’ music, at times stirring yet also playful, gives the film some emotional resonance when it feels like Spielberg’s execution might have escaped his intention.
Revisiting The Terminal amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has caused millions of Ukrainians to be displaced, one somehow could feel an odd parallel to Viktor’s circumstance.