(PG-13) 4 starsEd Johnson-Ott

For those of you in a hurry, here's the basic information: The latest collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks is the tale of a man forced to live in an airport terminal for an extended period of time. As with their last team effort, Catch Me If You Can, the film mixes comedy and drama skillfully and boasts an excellent cast. Despite minor problems with pacing and a subplot that doesn't deliver, The Terminal is a real charmer, with another fantastic performance by Hanks. Cast away in the airport.

The story opens as Viktor Navorski (Hanks) arrives in New York at the worst possible moment. During his flight, there was a military coup in his homeland, the tiny Slavic nation of Krakozhia. His visa is now canceled, so he cannot step out of JFK airport onto United States soil and the U.S. refuses to recognize the new government, so he cannot be deported.

Viktor Navorski has become a man without a country. Airport bureaucrat Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) will allow him to move freely within the JFK International Terminal, so Viktor becomes the sole full-time citizen of an airport mini-mall and food court. He has things to do. Learn more English, certainly. When he first lands, his entire vocabulary consists of "Where can I buy the Nike shoes?" He must find a job so he can purchase food and toiletries and such.

He makes friends along the way. People like Joe Mulroy (Chi McBride), a gregarious baggage handler who presides over after-hours card games to divvy up unclaimed luggage items. Or Gupta (Kumar Pallana), an aging janitor who amuses himself by watching people slip and fall after ignoring the warning cones and signs he sets out over slippery floors.

And then there's Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna from Y Tu Mama Tambien), a food service worker who cuts a deal with Viktor that will help him woo Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana), the fiery immigration officer Viktor visits every day. And we must not forget Ray (Barry Shabaka), another customs officer sympathetic to Viktor's situation.

Later comes the possibility of romance, as Victor befriends Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a neurotic flight attendant having an affair with a particularly callous married man. She sees Viktor as a kind frequent flyer, while he sees her as? Well, he sees her as a single flight attendant that looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The Terminal is a celebration of the immigrant spirit and of America as a melting pot. Laughs are drawn by Viktor's circumstances, but, as a man, he is regarded with nothing but respect. Spielberg is just as careful balancing out the scenes, making sure that the film does not succumb to the giggles or to sentimentality.

Stripped to its essence, the movie primarily celebrates the force of The Eternal Dad (please note that the film is being released on Father's Day weekend). The Dad that child-of-divorce Steven Spielberg grapples with in all of his movies.

Tom Hanks is the Eternal Dad, a father figure come to a new place with a task to do. Stanley Tucci is The System, blocking Dad from his goal because that's the nature of the beast. Dad sees the unyielding force of The System and adapts, because that's the nature of Dads. They get things done, with as little fuss as possible, and they try to teach their children to do the same.

Regardless of how you read the film, there is no denying that Tom Hanks has done it again. He disappears into Viktor and carries us with him. After the film I marveled at how convincing his accent was and how well he did with the language until I remembered that the accent and language were made up. Amazing.

Not everything about the movie works. Catherine Zeta-Jones usually carts herself around like royalty, but she tones it down admirably here. Still, the character she plays is so pathetic that the film feels weighted down when she is on screen. And the film drags just a bit at the end.

No other complaints. John Williams' score hits the right tones, the massive terminal set created by Alex McDowell is absolutely convincing and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does wonders with it. Loved those crane shots. Extra gold stars go to Spielberg for a scene we didn't see. Viktor makes something for one of the characters and, when he unveils the creation, part of it does not work. A couple of minutes later there is a scene where virtually every director in the business would have had the creation suddenly begin to work. You'll know what I mean when you see the movie.

Congratulations, Mr. Spielberg, for your restraint and for all the small pleasures of The Terminal.


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