The Terminal

Inspired by the case of a displaced, undocumented Iranian trapped in a French airport for more than a decade, Steven Spielberg downplays the absurd ambiguities inherent in this Kafka-esque premise and crafts a squishy fairy tale about the pluck and fundamental decency of the common man. While Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is in transit between his native Krakozhia...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Inspired by the case of a displaced, undocumented Iranian trapped in a French airport for more than a decade, Steven Spielberg downplays the absurd ambiguities inherent in this Kafka-esque premise and crafts a squishy fairy tale about the pluck and fundamental decency of the common man. While Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is in transit between his native Krakozhia — a generic Slavic country somewhere in Russia's general vicinity — and New York, a military coup takes place. He debarks at JFK airport and steps into a bureaucratic quagmire; his passport and U.S.-entry visa are now invalid, but he can't be sent home until Krakozhia's new government is officially recognized. Viktor's only legal option, explains brusque security official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), is to remain in the international terminal until the situation resolves itself, which should happen in a matter of days. Viktor, who speaks no English and is carrying only worthless Krakozhian currency, is in a situation ripe with poignant irony: Ensconced in the well-lit, climate-controlled terminal and surrounded by restaurants, shops, bars, international telephones and TVs perpetually tuned to the news, he's as destitute and isolated as if he'd been dumped naked in Death Valley. And Dixon is up for a promotion, so his management of the airport will be under close observation — as Viktor's stopover in limbo drags on, Dixon grows increasingly anxious about the impression the stateless vagabond's continuing presence is making on security higher-ups. Viktor gamely makes the best of things, building a makeshift shelter near an unused gate, figuring out how to earn money, learning English from travel guides and making friends among the airport's invisible army of low-level employees, including Mexican food-service worker Enrique (Diego Luna), Indian janitor Gupta (Kumar Pallana) and African-American maintenance worker Mulroy (Chi McBride). He even romances comely flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who finds his unaffected sweetness a welcome respite from her unpromising affair with a married man (Michael Nouri). Hanks' beleaguered Viktor is heir to the tradition of Charlie Chaplin's hapless Tramp, but Spielberg and screenwriters Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson can't leave well enough alone. It's not enough for Viktor to be an Everyman who prevails in the face of bad luck and bureaucratic indifference. He has to be on a sentimental journey to honor his father, endure persecution by a petty, power-hungry bully and become an inspiration to the downtrodden. There's a thin line between fable and twaddle, and this feel-good trifle veers dangerously close to the latter.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Inspired by the case of a displaced, undocumented Iranian trapped in a French airport for more than a decade, Steven Spielberg downplays the absurd ambiguities inherent in this Kafka-esque premise and crafts a squishy fairy tale about the pluck and fundame… (more)

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