Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Not that Steven Spielberg would care, but he’s often as cowardly at finishing his films at the right moment as Indiana Jones gets when nearing a slithering snake.
What hasn’t been a career-long problem still makes for a bumpy landing in The Terminal, his otherwise deeply funny 2004 comedy with a breezy romance and intriguing supporting characters.
Tom Hanks is Viktor Navorski, whose homeland suffers a military coup while he’s on an airplane to New York. Unable to return to his homeland and not eligible for amnesty, Viktor must stay in the international terminal until told otherwise by curmudgeonly customs agent Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci).
There, he meets, and courts, flighty flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, offering great insight into her cycle of emotional damage in limited screen time).
Alex McDowell’s masterful production design of the airport terminal helps Spielberg make the space feel like its own little world without ever overdoing it — capturing the cold, impersonal nature of travel and low-end job opportunities.
Like Amelia, Kumar Pallana’s Gupta (the terminal’s Indian custodian) is more than just a narrative convenience. The reasons for his paranoia and cynicism come out in a brilliantly delivered monologue, making his eventual sacrifice more convincing and important. That Pallana wasn’t an Oscar contender is baffling.
Even villainous Frank had human moments, and the movie should’ve ended with the slight softening of that hardest heart. Unfortunately, Spielberg just couldn’t resist that temptation to brutally yank, not lightly tug, at ours, downgrading a very good film’s impact.