The Terminal (2004)

Like Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ last collaboration, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal is a light, anarchic comedy with an undercurrent of tragedy rooted in infidelity and domestic breakdown. It gives Hanks another chance to do a put-on accent and to be funnier than he’s been in a long time. If the story wobbles between plotlines and characters, the whole package remains passably entertaining.

Inspired by the true story of an Iranian refugee without documentation stranded for more than a decade in a Paris airport, The Terminal posits a citizen of a tiny, fictional Slavic country whose government vanishes in a coup while he is en route to New York. Viktor Navorski (Hanks) thus arrives at JFK Airport a citizen of nowhere, with no bureaucratically correct options — he can’t stay, and he can’t go. He’s simply stuck in the airport. While stranded, Viktor forms relationships with a number of people who cross his path.

Content advisory: Sexual references and humor; references to an adulterous affair; some crude language. Might be okay for teens.


The Mission (1986)

The Mission is a beautiful, difficult film about faith, duty and conscience in 18th-century South America, where the work of Spanish Jesuit missionaries is opposed by Portuguese imperialists and slavers.

The story divides readily into three acts, each with its own moral crisis. The first act is the struggle for the soul of a mercenary and slaver named Mendoza (Robert DeNiro) and is full of shattering images of self-abnegation, goodwill, contrition and forgiveness. Then comes the sad, foregone investigation of a papal legate (Ray McAnally) nominally sent to inspect the work of the Jesuits in South America, but whose de facto mission is to rubber-stamp established plans to abandon the missions. Finally, there is the crisis between Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) and Mendoza over the issue of guerrilla resistance.

The Mission is not a perfect film, but it is a rich, challenging one that explores the spiritual and the temporal, and the relationship between them, in a thought-provoking way.

Content advisory: Bloody violence and killing, including large-scale battle; breaking of holy obedience; ethnographic nudity.


The Detective (1954)

In his popular Father Brown detective stories, G. K. Chesterton brought characteristic wit and an apologetical slant to the conventions of classic British detective fiction. Among the heirs of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown seems at first an unlikely detective hero, with his innocent, bespectacled face, diminutive stature and fuddled manner: Columbo without a badge. How could this sheltered cleric have any special insight into the hardened criminal mind? But Chesterton’s central conceit in these stories is that no one is better qualified to understand what evil lurks in the hearts of men than the confessor to whom men bare their hearts.

Alec Guinness played the fictional priest-sleuth in the 1954 British film Father Brown (known in America as The Detective) years before the actor’s conversion to the Catholic faith. Guinness makes a delightful Father Brown, and the film’s dialogue sparkles with flashes of Chestertonian wit. It’s a pity this well-intentioned and otherwise enjoyable film is marred by several serious missteps, especially where Father Brown makes a highly questionable decision that flies in the face of Chesterton’s stories. But the humanistic spirit of the Chesterton stories isn’t entirely absent.

Content advisory: Some morally problematic plot points.