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Culture Reviews
The Terminal / By Steven Spielberg /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
I heard that this movie was loosely based on true events, about an Iranian political refugee who has been stranded in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport since the late 80’s. Dreamworks paid this gentleman $250,000 for the rights to his amazing story, and with good reason. After having seen The Terminal, I felt like I was more interested in the person’s true story than this adaptation. This could clearly be a case of reality being more interesting than fiction.

Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a visitor to the New York from the fictional country of Krakozia. Upon his arrival to JFK International Airport, he discovers that his country is in the midst of a civil war; his papers considered null and void until a new Krakozian government is elected and its sovereignty is recognized. He becomes stuck at the airport for an indefinite period of time, forced to find ways to survive in his temporary abode.

In Viktor’s time at the terminal, he chances upon meeting many different characters whose lives somehow parallel his current situation. Viktor’s antagonist is Dixon, expertly played by Stanley Tucci. Dixon is the airport terminal’s acting Security Director. Having worked the same station for over 10 years, he considers Viktor’s arrival to be the annoying wrinkle in his impending promotion. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the love interest, in what seems to be her most beautiful appearance ever on screen. It’s a shame that her character is utterly superfluous and her performance unconvincing, however. I believe her whole existence in the script was only a plot device, a way to pass the time and eventually help reveal the secret of Viktor’s hollow can of peanuts.

The most delightfully surprising performance in this movie comes from Kumar Pallana, a very familiar face that some will know as “that funny Indian dude” from the Wes Anderson movies (Royal Tenenbaums). Playing the wary, playfully sadistic janitor, he quickly becomes Viktor’s most staunch ally. Viktor himself is played adequately by Hanks, who in his older years seems much more comfortable with the dramatic aspects of his character rather than the comedic fish-out-of-water scenes. Despite his horrible Russian accent (which I suppose can be explained as ‘Krakozian’), he easily manages to make us cheer for Viktor, but it never approaches the same effect as his performance in Forrest Gump.

Director Steven Spielberg definitely has a Gump-like story on his hands, with so many common elements: a likeable central character, the exposure of a failed system, a hurtful love story, and an overall feel-good atmosphere that permeates through the movie. However, it seemed as if Spielberg only had these in the background, instead focusing on the fact that these people are all stuck in their own particular moments. The result is that many of the events that occur in the movie don’t resonate well with the audience, and that satisfying feeling from Viktor’s ultimate triumph feels empty, contrived, and drawn-out.

In fact, beautiful as it is with its impeccable cinematography, the movie feels about 30-40 minutes longer than it should be. It would’ve benefited well from the deletion of a few scenes and supporting characters. If it were to focus more on Viktor and Dixon’s personal motivations, then the feeling for both characters would be more heartfelt by movie’s end. Instead, it failed to give me that emotional resonance (well, partly because I was still reeling at how useless Zeta-Jones’ character was).

The main theme that the filmmakers decided to work on was the idea of getting ‘stuck’. I can agree that being stuck in an airport is the perfect metaphor for being stuck in a moment that one can’t seem to get out of. Perhaps this movie put itself in such a situation, stuck in its own self-inflicted mess?

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