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Tom Hanks
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Stanley Tucci.
Steven Spielberg.
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Jeff Nathanson
Andrew Niccol.
Running Time
128 minutes

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The Terminal

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Viktor Navorski (Hanks) lands at JFK airport, to find his homeland of Krakozhia has dissolved in a rebellion and his passport is no longer valid. Stranded in a bureaucratic no-man’s land, he must live in the airport, unable to go home, unable to venture onto American soil…

You may have got the wrong idea about The Terminal. You might be thinking it’s another splashy romantic comedy with Tom Hanks back on home turf, goofing off in a funny accent and lifting those puppy-dogs in the direction of brittle, lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones. Well, Sleepless At Gate 67 it ain’t.

For Steven Spielberg, in later career, is having a whale of a time mixing up his native crowdpleasing with a caustic independent spirit. Yes, The Terminal is funny, romantic and sentimental, but inside Spielberg’s purpose-built airport lounge, an open-plan cathedral of endless flux, he’s channelling both Capra and Kafka. This is a post-millennial fable about how the world really kinda sucks.

The plot itself is loose-limbed, a vague blend of quest (to get out of the damn airport), survival and romance. It makes you think of Cast Away, while the posters, with their lone journeyman Hanks, recall the sap and charm of Forrest Gump. Yet this graceful satire feels more in touch with The Shawshank Redemption, where the looming prison boasts its own sushi bars and Borders superstore, but is every bit as repressive.

Navorski must live by his wits or go under, and in the slow churn of Hanks’ expert performance lies the movie’s substance, a subtle process of unpeeling a goofball tourist, located somewhere between Charlie Chaplin and Andy Kaufman, to reveal a singular man of purpose; direct, noble, irrepressible, and so very un-American. It’s a brilliant deception, forcing us to confront the rash judgement that all English-deficient travellers are basically idiots.

Less effective, though, is Navorski’s role as romancer. Wearing his heart on the sleeve of a new Hugo Boss suit, he woos listless, man-troubled stewardess Zeta-Jones, who is drawn to his honesty, failing to register this curious person as anything more than a frequent flier. Half the world, it seems, is to some extent trapped in an airport.

Never Spielberg’s forte, the romance unfortunately feels false, too removed from the movie’s menacing undertow. So he sensibly keeps it sidelined from the ongoing duel with Tucci’s brusque commandant. In a delicious performance, the vibrant actor underscores the required weaselling with an understanding that rules are necessary. Navorski, to his mind, represents chaos — a slipping cog in vital clockwork. In many ways, he’s right.

The film also traverses a wonderful array of supporting players, immigrant workers caught on the fringes of life with whom Navorski finds communion. In one throwaway yet spellbinding sequence, Wes Anderson regular Kumar Pallana, as a perpetually agitated Indian cleaner, displays a sublime knack for plate-spinning and juggling hoops. It’s a welcome burst of surreal indulgence, both hilarious and poignant, a new type of ‘Spielberg moment’.

Away from the knots of dramedy, you can sit back and drink in the director’s effortless class. His camera glides, feather-light, across this multi-storied shopping mall, keeping pace with the ebb and flow of passengers, Navorski the one static point of focus. There is a dazzling use of reflection, impossible shots in mirrors and glass panels; everything in the terminal is a reflection of the real America, a microcosm of the capitalist wonderland outside the doors.

And it’s very evident that the last thing Navorski’s chasing in the world — a bitter, unreliable place — is this dubious American Dream that comes wrapped in Cellophane, emblazoned with logos and wrung-dry by corporate red tape. Without giving anything away, the last line says it all: “Take me home.”

Far less cuddly than expected, this unusual and elegant movie may have failed to connect with US audiences but it proves Spielberg is currently the most unpredictable director in Hollywood.

Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Terminal, The

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Average user rating for The Terminal
Empire Star Rating

Underrated Spielberg Gem

Yes, it's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than you'd think. The unusual story is told masterfully through Spielberg's technical brilliance, and given real emotional weight by Hanks' astonishing performance. A joy of a movie. Also, a pretty spot-on review from Empire. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 01:09, 07 May 2013 | Report This Post

The Terminal Review

The brilliant Tom Hanks and the rest of the amiable cast make this bumpy ride worth sitting through. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 18:46, 20 January 2012 | Report This Post


Recently re-watched, had forgotten how great a film this really is. A slower paced, but nonetheless dazzling experiment for Spielberg and an incredible performance from Hanks, always humourous and touching but never straying into self-parody or stereotype. A forgotten modern gem! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hoojah41 at 15:59, 10 January 2011 | Report This Post

A really nice film

much better than expected. Well acted and heart-warming. One for everyone ... More

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Posted by blaud at 13:59, 17 March 2008 | Report This Post

I loved this film from start to finish, Hanks is really convincing as Viktor Navorski and the supporting cast is just wonderfull. This is not just a light hearted popcorn movie, it speaks about the value of compassion and human decency over slavish adherence to rules and if ever a film demonstrates that rules are made to be broken then this is it. Also all the characters in this movie are likeable even the guy running the airport has a good side, it really makes you wish more people in life woul... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willholyday at 17:09, 22 January 2007 | Report This Post

Fresh Air

I thouroughly enjoyed this film. I felt there were a few silly moments but, in general, it's heart was in the right place. There were sometimes laugh out loud moments and having seen 'Red Eye' the night before, 'The Terminal' was truely from a different league. Has Tom Hanks done a bad film yet??? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BarryNorman at 00:46, 22 July 2006 | Report This Post

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