For my money nobody makes better popular entertainment than Steven Spielberg. And that for me is what The Terminal is. A sweet, thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment.
I love Tom Hanks (is there a more likable leading man in Hollywood?), and I love airports. For me the idea of wandering around an airport for hours is great fun. I love the smell of jet fuel, the buzz of people excited to be going on vacation, and all the other excitement (for another film example of why airports are so great, see the beginning and ending of Love Actually. Hugh Grant says it better than I do).
The airport itself, JFK International Terminal in New York, is recreated so vividly that I can't believe that the set in this film isn't a real airport. It is simply one of the most astounding sets I've seen in a film in some time.
So, that's my recommendation. I say go see it. However, there are aspects of the film that I cannot discuss without spoilers, so if you don't want to be spoiled, stop here.
Alright, read on. You've been fairly warned. (I figured I better do that because I inadvertantly spoiled elements for my brother when discussing the film with The Enchanted Wizard of Rhythm last night).
The responses to the film that I've seen so far are fairly split. Some think it's a brilliant piece of intelligent, sentimental adult (in the traditional sense of the word) entertainment. Others think its a sap fest with terrible bore of a plot. I fall into the first camp.
Firstly, this is a film made by professionals at the top of their game. Steven Spielberg still consistantly makes films at an incredibly high level of skill and artistry. He can do it all, from the light and entertaining Catch Me If You Can, to the brilliant, yet misunderstood A.I. Artificial Intelligence (trust me, this film is like Blade Runner, in that 20 years from now people will begin to recognize it for its brilliance). The Terminal falls into the first category of entertainment. Spielberg's direction is tight. He knows what he wants to say and he says it. His vision is beautiful, due to the help of the wonderful Janus Kaminski. His wonderful lighting and controlled camera work is one of the highlights of the film. And finally, Tom Hanks puts in a performance that, in my opinion, rivals his work in Cast Away and Forrest Gump for brilliance. Through Hanks, the character of Victor Navorski is realized more fully than most films I've seen in several years.
Which brings me to the second thing I loved about this film: Navorski's character. One of the great things about the film is that Navorski is so well realized that after the first 30 min, we feel we know him well enough to know what is in character for him, and we begin to love him. Take for instance the scene where Dixon (the Homeland Security Liason) gives Navorski the chance to leave. "For five minutes America is 'open'." This scene sets up Navorski's character. He is tenacious. His quest will be accomplished, but he isn't willing to break the law to do it. It's been a long time since I've seen a character of such convictions in film that didn't feel fake or contrived.And for me that is one the joys of this film.
I want to mention the ending (this is the spoilers that I mentioned). I love the fact that the film doesn't fall into the romantic film clichés. Navorski doesn't get the girl, but that's ok. That wasn't his "destiny". And while one of the things about the film is the way that he touches the lives of the people he sees every day in the terminal, it's really about a man who won't be stopped in succeeding. Some people think the jazz signature plot is contrived and lame. I don't think so. As a fan of film and music, I can understand doing that for someone and what it would mean to them. And I think that's why Spielberg has it in there too.
While it's not without faults, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I can't argue with you if you think the film is boring. If spending 2 hours in an airport terminal with some interesting characters sounds boring to you, then by all means pass this one up. All I know is that it sounds brilliant. The Terminal is a expertly crafted piece of popular entertainment that I plan to revisit again in the future.