Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 June 2004

Steven Spielberg Channels the Ghost of Frank Capra


I saw The Terminal.  I smiled.  Tom Hanks is wonderful—absolutely wonderful.  The movie doesn't have the normal Spielberg convention of ending five separate times.  In fact, he could have added endings to this one and seems to have stopped after the first one.  For that I am grateful.  The problem with The Terminal is not the ending at all.  The ending, in fact, is clear from the beginning of the film.  The problem with The Terminal is its relentless belief in the goodness of people—it's unflagging, unwavering, ludicrous faith that when the chips are down; when people are put to the test they will do the right thing.  Mr. Spielberg would have us believe that unlike the employees of international airports in other parts of the country, the folks who work at JFK's international terminal allow love to make their decisions for them.  The employees of JFK don't hate their jobs; they don't dislike the people around them; they don't resent people who have more money than they do.  No, the employees of JFK have a smile for everyone; they are ready to befriend you if you are in need; and if you are in trouble or need a job or would like a bite to eat, they will be happy to go to any lengths to help you out. 

What kind of world does Mr. Spielberg live in?  This is easily the most manufactured, synthetic film I have seen this year.  There are no surprises in it.  It looks beautiful.  Spielberg veteran DP Janusz Kaminski's lighting seems to be completely overtaken by a sort of washed-out yellow look.  The art direction is lovely, and it is the cleanest airport terminal I've ever seen.  There are some very nice things about the film, in fact.  Catherine Zeta-Jones looks fabulous and gorgeous as usual.  Diego Luna is totally fricking hot and looks better the older he gets.  Tom Hanks is great: just great.  I believed every minute of his performance.  This is an actor who I've seen in dozens of films.  I believed him as a former Soviet who didn't speak a word of English.  This is no small feat, I assure you.  Tom Hanks is amazing.

It's just that the whole thing seems so fake, as though not a bit of it has any basis in reality.  And I am reminded by everyone around me that this is a true story.  Well, this may be based on actual events, but this movie comes out not as the true story of a man trapped in an airport, but as a candy-coated fable about a Jimmy Stewart everyman trapped in a two-story universe, criss-crossed with escalators, full of hopeful do-gooders who are conspiring together for his success.  Call me a cynic, but as I left the theatre and walked away from this movie (which I will not deny made me smile at least three times and even applaud once) I thought to myself that The Terminal is, quite honestly, total fucking bullshit.