Well, I'm happy to report that The Terminal isn't dead on arrival. In fact, at times, the movie soars with the kind of emotional power that we've come to associate with the Spielberg name. I'm also left to wonder if the public is getting the same version of the film that preview critics panned so harshly – most pre-release reviews claimed the film clocked in just short of 90-minutes, but my visit to The Terminal finished at a little over the 2-hour mark.
Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, who is visiting New York from his home country of Krakozia (a fictional creation for this movie, but intended to be located in Eastern Europe) and gets detained at JFK airport because during his flight there has been a coup in Viktor's home country – and it has essentially ceased to exist. Since Viktor's Visa is now no longer valid, he is forced to wait at the airport…and wait…and wait…until the war in his homeland is over or until he is permitted to enter the United States.
Like America itself, Spielberg's Terminal is a melting pot – as Viktor befriends an Indian janitor (Kumar Pallana), an African American airline worker (Chi McBride), and a Hispanic food services employee (Diego Luna) – the latter of which Viktor helps by passing along messages to an INS agent (Zoe Saldana) whom the worker is deeply attracted to.
Along the way, Viktor finds a little romance of his own, as he slowly comes to know a flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who frequently has stop-overs at JFK. The romance is sweet and believable (despite what other reviewers have written about the chemistry between Hanks and Zeta-Jones) and while Spielberg hasn't necessarily filmed a happy ending for these two, it is an honest one – two strangers who find moments of happiness in this microcosm of the real world, but who both have greater destinies pulling them away from each other.
The Terminal isn't a perfect movie, however. The airport's head of immigration (Stanley Tucci) who wants to get Viktor out of the airport is a little too much of a bad guy caricature – a little too evil to be believable, although he does get just a touch of redemption from Spielberg at the very end. Some of the situations Viktor finds himself in are also just a little too perfect, a little too slapstick or a little too dramatic…but Hanks' performance is so strong (the film requires him to be in almost all the scenes) and Spielberg's direction so solid that we are still entertained, although deep down we realize our reaction is being manipulated by a great actor and a masterful director.
Overall though, The Terminal is a fine piece of entertainment, and one you should give yourself the pleasure of seeing on the big screen. It's not as deep or meaningful as previous collaborations by Hanks and Spielberg, but it is lighthearted summer fun that will make you feel happy that you spent your day at the movie theater…and when was the last time you saw a film that made you feel that?