The great fault of Spielberg films is he usually manipulates the audience with tricks rather than allowing actors to carry a tale, hence he directs puppets & CGI better than he directs people. The terminal begins almost as an exception, with Tom Hanks creating a credible character in an incredible situation, showing us how he adapts & copes.
Because Viktor's unnamed country has had a coup while he was on an airliner, by the time he gets to the airport his visa is cancelled & he cannot enter the United States. Nor can he return home because the USA no longer has relations with that country. So Viktor has to live in the airport for months on end striving daily to survive like a man trapped in a jungle. He interacts with airport personel & develops charming relationships, & even just about falls in love.
But in the last half hour of the film all the threads of the story are dropped without resolution. Nobody good or bad learns any lessons or is changed in any way by their interacting with Viktor, except for Gupta who sacrificed himself for Viktor's sake. So the only person Viktor effected he actually harmed. Otherwise Viktor came, stayed a while, then left, changing no one's life for better or worse -- not one person would have been one whit different had they never encountered him. And that's bad storytelling.
Instead of showing us the impact Viktor had on the people he encountered, we get a drawn-out ending, editing stunts, tearful close-ups, a mushy mess until finally all the supporting cast are written out of the tale altogether leaving Hanks off on a tangent to wrap it up emptily & alone with a shitload of sentimental claptrap about his father's love of American jazz.
Yet the first hour of the film, while we get to see how Viktor adapts to his situation, surviving with his humor & humanity intact, is worth the whole film -- even though it does peter out two-thirds of the way through & ends nowhere. Tom Hanks gives a journeyman performance but it's by no means perfect; he tends to overdo it not as stupidly as in The Ladykillers fiasco but even here he makes Viktor shamble too much, overacting instead of letting the sympathy come to his character naturally.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl