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The Terminal

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Went with my mom and grandma.

I had heard about this guy fifteen years ago or more.  I haven't looked it up, so I'll just tell it from memory.  He was passing through an airport in Paris and there was some sort of problem with his passport.  Nothing that was his fault.  But because he didn't have a passport he couldn't fly to another country.  And because he wasn't French he wasn't allowed out of the airport.  And so he just lived in the airport.  For years.

At the time I heard it was long before Snopes. (Snopes is your friend)  So I kind of assumed it was an urban legend.  Turns out, it's a true story.  My mom said it was an Iranian, and he had arrived at the airport just as the Shah was fleeing the country.  So, his country was no longer recognized by the French government.  But he hadn't done anything illegal, so they couldn't officially detain him.  They just didn't know what to do with him.

This movie is based rather loosely on that premise.  It's set in 2004 (they mention the TSA at one point) and in New York's JFK airport.  Hanks is from Krakovhia, a fictitious Eastern European country that suffers a coup while Hanks is en route.  When he arrives he does not have a functional grasp of the language.   Basically just enough to fly on a plane, take a cab to his destination in NYC, and maybe order food.  But he's intelligent, so he pretty quickly grasps the full weight of the predicament he's in.  And they show him adapting to his new life fairly quickly.

This movie had a bit of an identity crisis.  It couldn't decide if it wanted to be a sappy feel-good movie or an over-the-top comical farce.

One character that suffers from that is the second-in-command of security at the airport, played by Stanley Tucci.  He's the one who orders Hanks dumped into the International terminal area.  I've seen Tucci play heavies, and I've seen him play wild and a bit caricatured characters.  And I suppose he can play a more normal person.  Since the whole premise is so bizarre one might expect him to play the role a bit more farcically.  There are a few points where he gets excited, but overall it's a pretty flat performance.  It wasn't played straight, and it wasn't played up.   Though a couple of times they came close.

Near the beginning, he tells Hanks that the front door won't be watched, to entice him to leave and get arrested by the NYPD.  In fact, they're watching him on closed circuit.  Hanks notices the camera and moves back and forth a little to see if it's really watching him.  Some of the dialogue back at the command center at that point is comical-farce.  And they show several officers just standing and watching from the background.  The entire sequence was supposed to be really cute and funny.  But maybe because it was so easy to anticipate, it just ended up as mildly cute.

Another character that suffered from an identity crisis was Catherine Zeta-Jones.   Who, btw, was looking especially cute in this movie.  Was her character a real love interest?  Or just a plot device?  And again, she gets to do a slapstick fall in her entrance, but after that doesn't really have any comedy attached to her.   Albeit there's a bit of comedy around her at one or two points.

There are several minor characters in the movie.  Officer Torres (Zoe Saldana, yummy-cute) who stamps his form "Denied" day after day.  The guy who helps stock the food on the planes who ends up feeding Hanks for his assistance in wooing Torres.  And a janitor and a baggage handler, who befriend him.  And a sidekick cop to Tucci's character.  All pretty standard fare, if this were a comical farce.

And I guess that's the problem.  This premise just cries out for a comical farce.   But Spielberg didn't pace it that way.  There are bits of farce in there.   But it feels like they tried to hard to "add in" the human element, and it ended up as a watered down farce.  Sort of like Spielberg's earlier movie, 1941. It's got a lot of good lines, but somehow the different pieces just don't hang together quite right.

On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Rental.  Decent performances in a story with an identity crisis.  It is cute, but it's not as good as I'd hoped.

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Last modified: July 17, 2004
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