PG-13 for brief language and drug references
2 hrs. 8 minutes
Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride,
Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna
Jeff Nathanson, Sacha Gervasi
Steven Spielberg, Walter F. Parkes,
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By Megan Basham
The most surprising thing about "The Terminal,"
the new film that reunites cinematic Dream Team Steven Spielberg and
Tom Hanks is not that it relies on good-hearted wit, good acting,
and a story that highlights simple human goodness to entertain. And
it's not that Spielberg breaks a cardinal rule of the summer "feel
good" flick yet nevertheless leaves the audience feeling great.
Rather, it is the fact that not only is the story of Viktor Navorski,
a man trapped in JFK airport for nine months, loosely based on a true
story, but that the actual airport refugee has been confined to a
single terminal for over ten years.
This tidbit has much bearing on the enjoyment of the film as the
average movie-going citizen might find the premise of an innocent
tourist so victimized by governmental red tape implausible. They might,
as reasonable people, be tempted to dismiss the idea that any bureaucracy
could be so inflexible as to leave a man floundering in airport limbo
for nearly a year. These will be people, of course, who have themselves
never held a federal position and taken it as part of their job description
to make people wait longer than is ever humanly necessary.
Tom Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, an international traveler who
lands at New York's JFK Airport only to find that a bloody coup in
his fictional Slavic homeland of Krakozhia has rendered him stateless.
Or, as the maniacally ambitious airport head of Homeland Security
Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) explains it, Viktor is "unacceptable"
to any nation.
With a passport from a government that no longer exists, Viktor cannot
enter the US and he cannot board a flight for home. His only choice
is to linger in the terminal and hope that peace will soon return
to his war-torn homeland. With little else to do as he watches other
people's flights come and go, Viktor sets up a make-shift home in
the crack he has fallen into.
Despite its grounding in semi-reality, there remains something fantastic
about this story. No matter where he is, Viktor maintains a high standard
of morality and compassion, and this wins him a loyal fan base of
employees throughout the airport. Even when he is literally invited
by top dog Tucci to break the law by sneaking out the sliding glass
doors that lead to freedom, Navorski refuses to circumvent regulation.
He sets his jaw, and offers a simple, "I wait." And wait
he does, willing to endure any humiliation the Department of Homeland
Security can dish out, including blocking his means to purchase food
Viktor represents kindness and reason, Dixon, the rigid legalism
that is so obsessed with security it can't see people for regulation.
When Dixon insists on taking medication away from a man who needs
it for a dying father, it is Viktor who finds a loophole in the security
system that will allow the foreigner to return home with the life-saving
Those audience members inclined to phobia over the Patriot Act will
no doubt see this plot (and Tucci's character) as a ringing indictment
of both it and the agency Tom Ridge heads. What they will likely not
learn much about are the real hard-hearted villains in the "Viktor
Navorski Story." You see, for all the evil legalism embodied
by Tucci, the pigheaded bureaucracy that provided the inspiration
for this film stemmed not from the US Department of Homeland Security,
but from Belgium and France's refugee-wary immigration authorities.
The real Viktor Navorski, a displaced Iranian named Merhan Karimi
Nasseri, was stuck in Charles De Gaulle Airport for over seven years
before the two European governments made any attempt to resolve his
situation. Now, sadly, it seems Nasseri has gone a bit mad and refuses
to leave the airport for any country save England, which is not an
option for him.
With Spielberg and Hanks at the helm, "The Terminal" is
for the most part everything one would expect--charming, funny, possessing
of its own singular character and visual beauty in much the same way
as their last collaboration, Catch Me If You Can. But
what it is not is intellectually honest. True, Spielberg most likely
could not have set this film in France with as much success. But if
he had, it is unlikely he would have made a French immigration authority
the villain he makes out of Tucci.
Truth, as always, remains stranger than fiction, and Hollywood's
fiction, as always, does what it can to undermine the reputation of
certain American institutions. The Terminal manages to
amuse, entertain, and inspire. But as with almost all things connected
to Tinsel Town, just don't expect it to educate.
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