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THE TERMINAL (PG-13) (2004)

DreamWorks Pictures

Official Site

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Steven Spielberg

Written by: Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson

Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Kumar Pallana, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana, Barry Shabaka Henley


SWEATY, TREMBLING MAN: Hi. My name is Roy. And I’m an alcoholic. I woke up out of a bourbon haze a couple of days ago, and I found a note from my wife, Kat. Said that she couldn’t stand to watch me kill myself like I was doing. Said she’s going to stay at her sister’s, in Tulsa. I want to call her, but I’m afraid she’ll just hang up. I haven’t been to work in two weeks. I think I’m probably fired. I don’t know. The doctors say that my liver’s going out. All the booze is killing it. They say I’m on a transplant list, but it’s long. They say it doesn’t look good. I’m scared. I need help.

RITA, THE SPONSOR: Roy, that took a lot of courage to say what you just said. We’re all here for you. We will help you. Everyone, let Roy know that we’re here for him.


RITA: You see, Roy, we’ll help you get through this. Don’t you worry. Take your seat and listen so you know that everyone else here is just like you. Ok, who’s next? How about you. Stand up, please. Tell us about yourself.

LITHE, PALE MAN: Hello, everyone. My name is Nathan. This is difficult to admit, and I get chastised for it a lot by all those holier-than-thou types, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I am a Spielberg-aholic. There, I said it. It’s true. I’ve worshipped the guy since I was a kid. If I lived in times past I would’ve been sentenced to death for Spielberg idolatry. I know just about every line of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom by heart. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that I liked A.I. I know he gets criticized a lot for it, but I’ve never felt him to be a sentimentality-monger. I think he’s the world’s most gifted, natural living filmmaker. And yet, I just saw The Terminal, and… I’m sorry, this I really hard for me… it’s just that it wasn’t very good. I don’t know what to think now. I need help.

(RITA immediately rushes to NATHAN’s side, and clasps his hand reassuringly)

RITA: Hey, shhh, it’s going to be okay, I promise. Just calm down and we’ll talk this thing through. Everyone, let Nathan here know that we support him, and that we know where he’s coming from.

(A few arrhythmic, unenthusiastic claps arise from the alcoholic chorus)

RITA: What was that? I’m ashamed of all of you. Nathan here needs help, and it’s clear that his problems are far more dire and immediate than your own. He’s here for you, and the least you can do is return the courtesy.

(This round of clapping is brisker, yet still sparse. RITA glares disapprovingly at the crowd)

RITA: Don’t mind them, Nathan, they’re just prima donnas. Let’s get back to you and to your problem. So you saw The Terminal? What is it? Tell us about it. It’s okay if you need to cry; if it happens, just let it happen. Don’t be embarrassed, okay?


RITA: So, The Terminal.

NATHAN: Yeah. Well, it’s Steven Spiel-

RITA: A little louder, please, so everyone can hear you.

NATHAN: Oh, sorry. Ahem. It’s Steven Spielberg’s new movie. I’m sure you’ve all seen the previews for it. Tom Hanks plays this guy named Viktor Navorski, who’s from a small European country called Krakozhia, or something like that. He doesn’t speak a whole lot of English, and he has this goofy-but-charming little accent. Anyway, while he’s in the air, a coup occurs in his country and it’s completely disassembled. When he lands in JFK Airport, in NYC, they won’t let him enter the city because his country no longer technically exists and his visa is rendered worthless. He’s sent to see the guy in charge of airport security, Dixon, played by Stanley Tucci, who tells him that because he’s fallen into a bureaucratic crack he’s confined to the airport until the coup in his country is resolved. So, you know, he’s stuck in the airport and can’t leave. For a long time. That’s the gist of it. Sounds like a pretty solid premise, right? So, because he’s such a likable guy, Viktor makes friends with a bunch of the ethnically diverse airport employees, played by Chi McBride, Diego Luna, and the old Indian guy from the Wes Anderson movies, Kumar Pallana—don’t worry if you guys don’t recognize the names, you’ll know who they are when you see them onscreen. Oh, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is Amelia, Viktor’s love interest, because they just have to throw in a love interest for good measure. I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought, what was I talking about?

RITA: The story.

NATHAN: Oh, right, thanks. So Viktor’s there for months and months, just waiting for things to right themselves in his country. Dixon decides not to help him in any way, although he has the power to, because he just wants Viktor gone, right, because he sees him as a nuisance. Initially Viktor’s struggling to find change so he doesn’t starve to death, but he’s quickly recruited by an airport employee to work as matchmaker—the employee has a crush on an INS agent, played by Zoë Saldana, who’s pretty cute if I do say so myself, but he’s too afraid to talk to her. In exchange, Viktor’s friend gives him meals. I don’t want to bore you guys with too many of the details, but from there he teaches himself better English, finds a job, and earns the scorn of Dixon, who is apparently jealous of Viktor because of his success, or something like that. The whole Dixon-as-villain device was just weak and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Tucci was good and all, his character just didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

RITA: So your focal issue of distress isn’t the acting?

NATHAN: Oh, no, not at all. The cast, with the exception of Catherine Zeta-Jones—who, just between me and you guys, is such a non-presence in the film she may as well not have been in it at all—pretty much rocks. Tom Hanks is brilliant, as always; his character is just so utterly likable, what with his clumsiness and that spot-on accent, that I just wanted to reach into the screen and give him a big hug, you know what I’m saying? And I don’t even swing that way. Everyone else is great, too. Almost as likable as Hanks. Many of the film’s best comedic moments, though, belong to Kumar Pallana. He plays a janitor, Gupta, who’s wry, sardonic, and he can actually spin plates. Just like that Radiohead song, I think it’s called “Spinning Plates.” You guys ever heard that one?

ROY: Come on, what is this? Some of us are in a really bad way here. I have things I really need to get off my chest. I’ve done some crazy, messed-up things lately. I need to talk, I need you to help me.

RITA: Roy, I’m going to need you to show some respect and civility for others for just a little bit, ok? We’ll get back to you in no time. Or next session, definitely.

NATHAN: Yeah, man, you’ve already had your turn.

RITA: So, Nathan, if you thought the acting, how did you put it, “rocked,” what aspect of the movie troubles you so? Share with us, tell us about it. You can do it.

(She pats his hand reassuringly once again; she has never broken physical contact with NATHAN.)

NATHAN: To be as blunt as possible, it’s the story that really yanks my chain. I just feel that there’s so much wasted potential there, it really could’ve been something special. Instead, it’s nothing more than a light-hearted, whimsical romp through a situation that would drive anyone insane. Why would Spielberg have allowed it to happen like that? It just doesn’t make sense. Oh, I get so angry just thinking about it.

RITA: It’s okay, anger is a natural response. It’s an important phase in the healing process. Let it all out right now, it’s okay. Tell us more.

NATHAN: The premise, you know, it’s got so much potential. Stuck in an airport for months upon months of your life? Just imagine the psychological damage such an experience could have on someone. I wanted to see an exploration of that. “Life is waiting,” that’s the tagline of the movie, and it hints at all of the sadness and desperation and isolation that a person confined like this might feel. The only thing worse than being in an airport is being in a hospital—they’re both so draining and empty in their own ways. Being stuck in an airport for months wouldn’t be fun, or life-affirming, as The Terminal makes it out to be, it would be absolute hell. And yet this film is a comedy, and partially a romantic comedy, at that. Now, I understand that hope can flourish in the most trying of circumstances, but Viktor just shrugs off all adversity with a doughy smile and garbled English euphemisms. He makes this look like an easy thing; pain and frustration are only rarely apparent in his character. Although he’s amusing and charming, to be sure, he’s almost sub-human, like he’s resistant to even the most basic negativities. At only one point in the movie does he ever even attempt to contact anyone from his fallen country. It’s as if he simply accepts his terrible fate and begs for seconds. Any exposition concerning Viktor comes so late in the movie that it’s completely unaffecting. His determination to complete his “mission” in New York isn’t gratifying or heartwarming, it’s robotic and implausible. He’s a nice guy to an impossible degree. He never grows and he never changes, and that’s a fundamental flaw of the script. God, I’m really sorry about the speech here, but this story could have acted as such a strong, poignant metaphor about getting lost in the bureaucracy-driven, nonsensical world that we live in, right now. Instead, it’s just a commercialized fluff-piece. I feel horrible saying that. Spielberg is like an idol of mine. He’s given me so many happy memories.

RITA: It’s okay, you’re doing great. This is all necessary, believe me. Feelings of being betrayed by a loved one are common in situations like yours. Right everyone?


RITA: The best thing to do is continue and let it all loose. If you bottle all that bad energy up inside of you it’s just going to explode. You might end up hurting yourself or someone you care about. You’re doing just fantastic. Earlier it sounded like you were unhappy with the love story subplot of the film. Would you care to elaborate?

NATHAN: Yeah, I am upset about that. It’s just one of the many threads of the film which never tie together into a whole. I’ve been known to exaggerate from time to time, but I promise that I’m not exaggerating—not even slightly—when I say that the film would have been no different if the love story angle didn’t exist. It feels thrown in for box-office bankability, like they needed a big female star to up the profits. As if the names “Spielberg” and “Hanks” weren’t big enough, right? I mean, I don’t want to give away too much, but trust me, when you guys see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The love story is totally unsatisfying and it goes nowhere. The same with Tucci’s character, Dixon. At the beginning of the film he seems like a pretty decent guy, and affable enough to Viktor given the circumstances, but he devolves into a villain seemingly out of nowhere, and his vendetta against Viktor is arbitrary and forced. Again, a conventional “antagonist” hole needed to be filled, so a derisory character was created to fit the bill so everyone has someone to hate. Is the oppressive, albeit abstract, force of precious months of one’s life being wasted because of a legal technicality truly not antagonistic enough? Oh, and then there’s the ill-conceived ending, which is anticlimax-city. It seems like a portion of an altogether different movie accidentally spliced onto The Terminal. I know there have been reports of the ending being re-shot at the last minute, so I can’t even imagine how the movie might have closed before, but this is just ridiculous. Come to think of it, the entire pace of the movie seems strange, like there’s no momentum or buildup. The fact that Viktor never truly acts like he wants to leave the airport doesn’t help much.

RITA: Wow, Nathan, you’ve really said a lot tonight. You’ve really vented. Do you feel that you’ve vented?

NATHAN: Yeah, I guess I do.

RITA: Take a deep breath. Do you feel less angry? Less betrayed?

NATHAN: Kind of, actually. Yeah.

RITA: Is there anything else you’d like to say, before we have to move on?

NATHAN: You know, so what if I was let down? So what if it isn’t what it should have been? It had some hilarious moments, I got to watch Tom Hanks do his thing for two hours, and Janusz Kaminski’s photography was great, as always. So what if it wasn’t Jaws or Close Encounters or even Catch Me If You Can? It was still better than ninety percent of what I’ve seen this year. It’s Spielberg, so it’s just innately good on many levels. At least he’s still a more-than-competent director. At least he’s still making accessible movies. He’s not senile like Scorsese, or too fat to move, like Francis Coppola. Spielberg’s prolific, and I should thank my lucky stars for that. He still loves me, I know it.

RITA: That’s a great attitude! Your progress has been incredible, and I’m so, so proud of you. I wish we could keep going, but, oh, it looks like we’ve run out of time for this week. I just want all of you to know that I’m just as proud of you, although next time maybe some of you could take a bit more initiative, and speak out a little. As you’ve seen tonight, it really does help. Right, Nathan?

NATHAN: Yeah, it sure does.

ROY: What is this shit? Why wouldn’t you listen to me? I needed help, I needed to be able to talk to someone! My wife didn’t leave me, I killed her! I cut her into cubes with this cleaver that I’m holding right now! And then I ate her! I cannibalized my wife, and I’m an alcoholic! And I’m dying! Damn you both! I’ll send you both to hell!

(ROY then proceeds to cut both RITA and NATHAN into cubes. And then he eats them. After they arrived in hell, they make love for a very, very long time.)

—Nathan Baran

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