If Viktor in ‘Terminal’ looks familiar, thank Spielberg

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

How did you feel the last time you watched a Steven Spielberg film?

Did your spine tingle and your eyes go wide with the horror of &uot;Jaws,&uot; or did you wipe tears from your eyes as &uot;E.T.&uot; pulled at your heartstrings? Were you grinning with excitement while checking out one of the Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park movies, filled with uplifted pride after &uot;The Color Purple&uot; or &uot;Saving Private Ryan,&uot; or stunned into silence by &uot;Schindler’s List&uot;?


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Spielberg’s films have sent millions through the gauntlet of emotions for decades. Now let’s try some of the few we haven’t really gotten the chance to feel.

Let’s cover our mouths with fear and sympathy as we watch a man trapped in a strange land, without a home, without friends, without a real chance. Let’s laugh warmly at the comical plights he undergoes, and the new acquaintances that help him out. Let’s pump our fists as we silently root for him against those who use their so-called might and power to keep him down. Finally, let’s cheer for his triumph as he wins over all those around him, and those like us who were lucky enough to watch him do it.

That’s the story of &uot;The Terminal,&uot; Spielberg’s new film starring Tom Hanks as Victor Navorski, who arrives at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport from the fictitious European country Krakozhia. While in flight, his country became overrun by mercenaries and no longer exists. Because he does not have a valid passport to enter or a country to return to, Victor, is stuck in the airport until everything is straightened out. Per usual, takes much longer than expected.

Hanks’ performance is like a cross between Forrest Gump and Chuck Noland (his &uot;Castaway&uot; role). Though trapped in an unfamiliar and oftentimes unforgiving world (Stanley Tucci in particular plays a power-hungry airline bureaucrat who might not be such a jerk after all), he still manages to bring together those around him, particularly a group of airport menial jobbers that find a reason to care.

Like Gump did in 1994’s Best Actor performance, Viktor, who speaks English with the help of a dictionary, lets fate carry him to its own destination. Whether he’s an honorary mediator between a food service worker friend and a bombshell security guard, collecting carts to trade for quarters for a Burger King meal, or sitting with a different janitor, wondering which unsuspecting customer will be next to ignore the &uot;Wet Floor&uot; signs and take a nasty tumble, Hanks makes Viktor real – he makes us forget that he’s really Tom Hanks pretending to be someone else. As he did as Noland, Hanks also trades his lack of speaking lines – at least for the first hour – into a body-language, pantomimed performance that lets viewers know exactly what he’s thinking. Spielberg, perhaps having remembered the work Hanks did for him in &uot;Private Ryan,&uot; just turns him loose and gives him the screen, but never lets us forget that the man behind the camera is also the best at what he does.

No, the film’s not quite perfect. Catherine Zeta-Jones is particularly wasted as flight attendant Amelia, who shows up long enough to pour her heart out to Viktor, practically beg him for a date (like Catherine Zeta-Jones would ever have to beg anyone for a date) and realize that she can’t settle down with one person, all in the span of about 20 minutes. You get the feeling that she took the role just so she could say, &uot;I worked with Steven Spielberg!&uot; The film’s ending takes a bit longer than it should have, but that’s more because it simply slows down from the breakneck speed it’s been going at for over an hour.

But that’s just what this film is – a simple story that few directors but Spielberg and few actors like Hanks could tell. It’s an adventure that doesn’t go far (how many places can one go inside an airport?), but that viewers will be all too eager to take with Viktor and his pals.

As Forest Gump, Hanks inspired us. He taught us how to treat each other better. He taught us how to deal with the problems life hurled us. He made us want to be better people. And now Viktor’s here to say it once again.

Grade: B