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‘The Terminal’

Tom Hanks is perhaps the most daring actor of his generation: He thought people would watch a movie about a man stranded on an island. He was right. “Cast Away” grossed more than $230 million. That’s incredible, especially seeing how his co-star was a volleyball.

Hanks might have figured “The Terminal”—about a man stranded in JFK’s international transit terminal—would be less of a gamble. After all, he wouldn’t have to carry the film solo, and he would re-team with his “Catch Me If You Can” director, Steven Spielberg.

 

Opening June 18, “The Terminal” has made just over $65 million. It seems to be circulating on the baggage conveyor belt of summer releases without a “2” in the title.

 

Despite box office numbers, which are surely disappointing for a Spielberg-Hanks outing, the film-making duo had good instincts about the story. “The Terminal” is time well spent inside an airport.

 

Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man from a fictional country in Eastern Europe, who is detained indefinitely at New York’s JFK airport. Viktor’s homeland has undergone a coup while he was in the air, and he is a man without a country—and hence without the necessary credentials for passing into the United States.

 

It’s a fun premise, and one that is enforced by Frank Dixon, the airport’s security chief played sometimes unevenly by Stanley Tucci. Viktor inadvertently makes Frank’s job a nightmare, but Frank refuses to let the foreigner pass for narratively necessary but sketchy reasons.

 

Ultimately, though, “The Terminal” isn’t about having an airtight premise. It’s about the America that Viktor experiences in the terminal.

 

Viktor forges relationships with airport workers, many of them recent immigrants themselves. How they instigate, maintain and defend those bonds makes for a revealing and touching exploration of the fabric of this country.

 

Viktor must wait … and wait … and wait, and how he fills the time is both comic and indicative of the ingenuity this country has demanded of the people who arrive at its shores.

 

His exploits in and around Gate 67 of the terminal are too many to name—but they coalesce into a meaningful movie-going experience, even if one a little longer than necessary.

 

The B-storyline has Catherine Zeta-Jones playing a flight attendant whose path repeatedly crosses Viktor’s. This could have and should have been excised; Zeta-Jones is fine, but she’s so less interesting than Viktor’s other comrades.

 

Why Viktor wants to gain entry to New York is a bit of a mystery—as is the peanut tin he carries around. But everyone has a reason for coming to America, and “The Terminal” is anything but the end of his journey.

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief language and drug references.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson

 

Cast: Viktor Navorski: Tom Hanks; Amelia Warren: Catherine Zeta-Jones; Frank Dixon: Stanley Tucci; Joe: Chi McBride; Enrique: Diego Luna; Ray: Barry Shabaka Henley; Gupta: Kumar Pallana; Officer Torres: Zoe Saldana.

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.