The plot is farfetched and nonsensical (though it is "inspired" by a true story), but in a charmingly whimsical sort of way that makes the illogicality seem unimportant. The episodic structure weaves together sketches of Victor's life as he manages to transform an impersonal airport into a cozy home. The Capra element is there, particularly with its populist admiration for "the common man," but the film also significantly recalls Charlie Chaplin - in one scene Victor makes a bed for himself out of two rows of chairs and Spielberg shoots the funny scene in one long take, as Chaplin would have, allowing Hanks' performance tell it all rather than using any unnecessary cinematic flourishing.
There are some very funny moments, several provided by Kumar Pallana, an Indian janitor whose sole pleasure in life is watching people slip after they've ignored his "Caution: Wet Floor" signs, too consumed in their cell phone conversations, or too preoccupied with rushing to get to their terminal on time, to ever bother looking up. Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson's screenplay also wittily mines Viktor's communication barrier, and Hanks does a wonderful job with his Eastern European accent (Hanks also amusingly mimicked the Southern accent in the abominable "The Ladykillers" earlier this year--Meryl Streep has a new competitor).
Unfortunately, the film looses steam in its final third. The episodic structure of "The Terminal" simply doesn’t build to any conclusion so it feels like one had to be tacked on. Also disappointing is a weak last minute revelation involving a mysterious box of peanuts that Viktor carries with him at all times.
The muddled message could also be troubling to some. The illogical plot would appear to serve as a perfect vehicle for wagging a finger at the increased, to the point of paranoia in Spielberg's mind, red tape of airport security in post 9/11 America. Yet, thankfully perhaps, Spielberg's heart doesn't seem to be in the indictment. Much as in his underwhelming World War II epic, "Saving Private Ryan," Spielberg can't quite make up his mind what he thinks about his subject. "Saving Private Ryan" opens with a horrific battle scene which suggests that war is hellish and completely dehumanizing, then utilizes an anti-war plot (in which eight men are sent to risk their lives to save one man), and ends as a mildly patriotic war picture meant as a salute to America's veterans. Some might find this frustrating, but while the film itself is deeply flawed, its ambivalence is its most admirable aspect. In "The Terminal," Frank Dixon symbolizes cold, robotic bureaucracy, yet even he is humanized, and most of the security guards and agents are presented as decent people just doing their jobs.