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The Terminal: A Modern Masterpiece

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The Terminal is a fable, stuffed with allegorical characters and increasingly unbelievable situations. Yet it works, drawing you in, and painting a world that is grippingly real.

The strongest part of the film is Tom Hanks. He’s at the top of his game here. If you had asked, I would have said he was one of the best actors of our time and was putting in the best possible performances already. Here, he’s turned it up a notch. His character, Viktor Navorski, is devoid of ego, operating from his center and Hanks consistently reveals the inner man in each scene.

Each of the characters starts out as funny and amusing and then evolves into their archetype. Navorski starts out as a non-English speaking tourist stuck in a diplomatic nightmare. We start to see him as more than everyman when he finds an abandoned gate and manages to build a bed out of the broken chairs. Eventually, we learn he is a man on a quest and his abilities far exceed ours. By the time we get to the outlandish (wait for the gift to the love interest!), we have bought into him.

Each of the minor characters also start out as people in everyday jobs with everyday lives, struck with an unusual situation. We learn that each one has his or her own quest, which has now been linked up with Victor’s quest. Their powers are not as grand as his but they take inspiration from his journey and each completes his own task. No one overplays the role, even when it had to be damn tempting. Granted, I cannot overlook that Spielberg is a great director, but it takes more than tight direction to get performances like these. The actors have to be talented.

All of this praise makes it sound as if this is a serious movie. It is not. It is a hilarious comedy. I live and see movies in a staid (I refrain from the word boring) suburb. Audiences watch movies in cocoons here. We are usually quiet. Not this time. I sat in a theater full of people laughing, cheering and actually squealing in delight. Even the predictable punchlines produced glee in how they were delivered. The movie works as a straight comedy even if you’re 7 and have no clue what an allegory is.

One final note: I thought the photography was wonderful. I don’t usually notice that. At one point, there’s a taxicab scene at night and I lost track of the dialogue while I wondered how they made it look so rich and beautiful. Did they actually make sure the colors of the clothes, interior and exterior sets blended like that or did they set it up by feel? Really something.

It’s too bad this opened with Spiderman 2. I suspect many will miss it.

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