The Terminal ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I was roundly underwhelmed the first time I saw The Terminal, but have been planning to give it a second viewing all along. Enough time has passed that I was able to come to it tonight fairly fresh, and I think this is as fair a screening as I could give it.

The cons remain the same: Everything in the story is contrived, from its basic premise to its too-cute-by-half arranged dinner scene. Stanley Tucci's Dixon morphs into the bad guy abruptly halfway into the film in a scene that serves no purpose other than to establish that he and Victor are now enemies - which, in turn, only seems to happen because no one had enough confidence in the story to refrain from giving us a personification of antagonism.

Amelia is yet another in a long line of self-sabotaging women, self-aware enough to know what her problems are, but lazily not empowered by writers to do anything about them. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a game performance, but just when it seems she's on the verge of rising above the material, she's stuck in a scene like the one in which she confronts Victor in his makeshift "home". We don't know what she knows, or wants to know, or anything other than that she's just met Dixon and is now accusing Victor of being just like all the other lying men she's ever known. But why? For what reason is she so hostile? None is given, and Zeta-Jones plays it so heavy that it doesn't track with what we've learned of Amelia to that point.

When I first saw the film, I was extremely aware that it was essentially a repudiation of the xenophobia fostered by the Bush administration with its daily "us vs. them" warnings. The film played as way too heavy handed for its own good, about as subtle as the bowling ball Foghorn Leghorn always spoke about. Tonight, I didn't feel that was as omnipresent. Whether because I'd already seen it and wasn't open to being surprised by that aspect of it, or because we're far enough removed from that era that the external connotations aren't as obvious, I don't know. I want to believe that as we get farther away from that period, such resistance toward foreign visitors will seem more ridiculous, but we've got a long way to go before I buy that.

Tom Hanks, of course, is the big draw. I wish I could find something to say about his performance one way or the other, but I just can't find anything more than to note that it's a typical Hanks performance. It's his endearing personal nature that dominates more than anything he specifically says or does as an actor. Victor is such an idealized character, so pure of heart and devoid of any inner conflict, that the only choices are to either accept him, or reject him at the cost of being branded a complete jerk. Victor isn't a great character, or even a particularly well-written one, and only the likability of Hanks rescues Victor from being completely off-putting.

The problem with The Terminal's narrative is that just about every part of it can be unraveled with clear communication between characters. We're asked every step of the way to just go with it, to accept at face value all kinds of things that inherently invite questions that the film doesn't want us to try to answer. There comes a point where asking such things devolves into nitpicking, but there is also a point where there are so many such questions that they become an indictment of the storytelling.

These complaints aside, I did *like* The Terminal this time through, so there's that.

The Terminal Re-Ranked on my Flickchart (#1024/1591)

The Terminal < Igor --> #1024
Morose Steve Buscemi > Pure of heart Tom Hanks

The Terminal > Spider-Man 2 --> #1024
2004 Showdown! I was disappointed by both, in large part because both rely too heavily on contrivances. Going with The Terminal; it's more likable, at least.

The Terminal < Date Night --> #1024
Carrell and Fey had really good chemistry in Date Night. Tom Hanks does what he can with The Terminal, but it isn't enough for the win.

The Terminal > Necessary Roughness --> #1024
They should make a crossover sequel where Kathy Ireland is stuck in a Krakhozian airport and not allowed to join the rest of her football team.

The Terminal < Princess of Mars --> #1046
The likability of Hanks aside, The Terminal just isn't all that satisfying. Neither is Princess of Mars, but I'm such a fan of Barsoom that I at least appreciate its effort.

The Terminal < Paranormal Activity 2 --> #1070
Molly Ephraim's performance as Katie's niece was impressive enough to snag the win here for Paranormal Activity 2.

The Terminal > Swamp Shark --> #1070
Swamp Shark is alright, but relies too much on its concept and not enough on development or execution. Though I'm not big on it, I'm picking The Terminal.

The Terminal > Wild Wild West --> #1070
The Terminal is contrived and weak, but Hanks is irresistible. I can't find anything in Wild Wild West to counter that.

The Terminal < Roman --> #1073
It's hard to dislike a Tom Hanks movie, but it's possible to be underwhelmed by one. Lucky McGee's performance in Roman is intriguing enough to earn the win here.

The Terminal > Boo --> #1073
Boo is probably more entertaining, but despite my harshness about The Terminal, I do kinda like it.

The Terminal was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #1073/1591