The Terminal (2004)

(In French, On TV, January 2015)  Big-budget high-concept mimetic dramas are getting scarce on the ground at an a time where spectacle reigns at the box-office, but throw enough big names at a project and you may find a few surprises.  This Spielberg-directed film stars Tom Hanks as a tourist who finds himself stranded within New York’s JFK airport after a coup back home.  Laboriously trying to make sense of an unfamiliar environment, he eventually manages to learn English, earn a decent salary as a construction worker, romance a high-flying stewardess and accomplish his original goals.  It may sound simple, but much of the film’s pleasure is in seeing it unfold in quasi-procedural detail.  Tom Hanks is remarkable as the stranded tourist, learning how to adapt to his situation as best as he can.  The supporting players are often good (Catherine Zeta-Jones plays The Girl with a nice touch of unpredictability, with a surprising conclusion to her arc) although some plotlines involving Stanley Tucci as an antagonist feel more caricatured than they deserve.  Spielberg at the helm means that we get solid direction, with occasional flourishes such as the vertiginous pull-back shot that shows how crazy-large the terminal set was.  I watched the film in French, which took away a bit of the film’s linguistic element but introduced a bilingual bonus when Zoe Saldana’s character comments that she goes to Star Trek conventions cosplaying as Uhura.  (Saldana would go one to play Uhura in the 2009 film; in the original English version of The Terminal, she says that she cosplays as Yeoman Rand)  The film’s ending does feel a bit downbeat, but not all that much: in the end, we still get an amazing robinsonade in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

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