Style over substance. Admittedly, that’s the first thing that zipped through my mind as this one got going. But…that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Terminal is another of those small, but interesting-looking ‘film noir’ movies (along with Hotel Artemis) that popped onto The Scene in among all the expected Blockbusters that we were bombarded with in 2018, that I fully intended to get my ass to the theatre to see. Alas, t’wasn’t meant to be and I missed both of those titles on The Big Screen. But Netflix does it again, unexpectedly springing a title that I’ve had on my Wish List into availability. So on a grey, featureless Saturday afternoon, I brewed up some tea, grabbed my scratch pad, and hit Play.
Terminal takes place in and around a late-night cafe at the end of a train line in an unnamed city where the lives and dealings of a femme fatale waitress, a terminally ill English teacher, a gimpy janitor, a pair of bickering hit-men and a mysterious puppet-master behind-the-scenes all come together for a variety of sordid twisty reasons, resulting in cons, betrayals, and murder.
- Cool style. Right off the bat. Colorful and symmetrical. As it says there, this movie drips with a very specific atmosphere, leaning HEAVILY on the use of colour, light and shadow. The cinematography is also VERY calculated, with obvious attention paid to symmetry in the shot compositions. Very pretty.
- Awesome credits! Neon on buildings. I like it when a film cleverly incorporates its opening credits into the visuals. To compare, I instantly think of how the credits were handled in David Fincher’s criminally under-rated Panic Room (2002), with the words made part of the downtown city-scape shots. Very similar here, only with strong emphasis on neon.
- Ha! Mike Meyers. A true Canadian export (that we’re actually proud off…eat a bag of dicks, Bieber!), I had noted his name in the opening credits, but was still surprised when he actually turned up onscreen, all buck-toothed and gimped.
- Hilarious robbery scene. Simon Pegg! I’ve always liked Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), and this role was no different. One gag in Terminal is a pair of doofus muggers who get talked out of their actions in a most amusing way by Pegg. I laughed out loud.
- Again, style. Movie drenched in neon. I like neon lighting. I find it gives films a visual richness and adds a sort of timelessness. Terminal cranks the neon up to 11 here and as a result, helps create the strange dream-like ambiance that rides just below the surface of the narrative.
- Margot Robbie = Gorgeous. Just sayin. It’s all right there. Robbie is one of the more stunning actresses in Hollywood right now. Australia should be proud.
- Terry Gilliamesque humor. Elements of the absurd. As with most of Gilliam’s work (which I mostly love), there is a cynical, almost uncomfortable sense of the absurd/odd/strange to the proceedings here.
- Tarantinoesque dialogue and non-linear narrative. As with most film directors, writer / director Vaughn Stein is clearly influenced by other successful directors that have come before him. And it was clear that the films of Quentin Tarantino had left their mark and some of that found its way into his script. For the most part…it was done well and I easily overlooked the obviousness.
- Energetic performance from Robbie. Not only is Margot Robbie SUPER easy on the peepers, but the woman can also act and she definitely brings her A game here. There’s life in her performance and she seems to be relishing the chance to chew on some of the scenery. Like most of the impressive cast, she definitely jumped in with both feet.
- Fun character dynamics. Going along with the Tarantino-inspired dialogue, Stein coaxed some amusing ‘back and forth’s from his leads that kept the energy of the narrative moving through some of the slower scenes.
- Cool retro synth score. Neon was a big visual factor in many flicks from the 1980’s and to go along with the retro-ness of the aesthetic here, the mostly subtle film score has a charming 80’s veneer to it.
- Funny ‘what if’ montages. There are a couple extended sequences where characters ponder and plan certain courses of action and we, the audience, are treated to some funny sequences where ideas are shown to fail in ways that had me chuckling.
- Alternate universe? There is no specific time-period that this movie takes place in. It feels eerily similar to Alex Proyas’ under-seen ‘classic’ Dark City (1998), in which the omni-present night-time creates an otherworldly and claustrophobic feel that is complimented with vintage props and non-period particular settings, such as having characters use old-school rotary phones while packing modern, high-tech firearms like the Glock.
- Hmmm…The Usual Suspects, anyone? In the 3rd Act, crosses and double crosses start showing themselves and one of them has a character pull a ‘Keyser Soze’ on us. Another example of paying tribute to an influence or just lazy plagiarism. You be the judge.
- And a Scream twist too?!Within minutes of the last twist mentioned, there’s another that’s thrown at us that reminded me heavily of the big twist in the original 1996 Scream.
- Monologuing? *sigh*. Unfortunately there’s an extended scene where a key character (or two) give this huge exposition dump to catch us up to what’s happened to lead the story to where it was by this point.
- Double cross upon double cross. As mentioned, the 3rd Act becomes a medley of double crosses and murders.
- Interesting flick. A bit too long. Yep, while I did like this movie, it did have an uneven pace and the 2nd Act felt a little bloated and meandering. Despite being 1 hour and 35 minutes long, I will admit that it did feel longer.
And those were my kneejerkreaction scribbles for Terminal.
In a nutshell, I liked this movie. Technically, it’s a great-looking film-noir that establishes a specific style / visual language and sticks to it, right to the end. Very obviously, some hard work went into giving Terminal the exaggerated flavor that I would say defines it. It has a solid cast, with Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg and Mike Meyers bringing engaging life to the characters this morbid yet amusing story asked them to inhabit. On the downside, I do think a bit more action or violence would’ve added to this film’s appeal and the pace could’ve been tightened. I do see why this one came and then quickly and quietly left it’s theatrical run and I’m glad that I caught up to it how I did, on Netflix. If you’re a fan of stylish film-noir inspired movies that are technically very proficient in how they tell their story, then this would be a solid title to get into on a slow, drizzly afternoon when you have some time to kill.