Terminal is undoubtedly going to go down as one of 2018’s best looking films. It’s visually stunning with beautiful lighting and mesmerizing cinematography. But it lacks enough substance to match its dazzling looks.
The great news about the film is it marks a very promising debut from Director/Writer Vaughn Stein. Previously, Stein worked as second or third assistant director on projects like World War Z, Snow White and the Huntsman and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Stein clearly benefited from his experience on those films as Terminal has the look and feel of a highly polished veteran director, not one making his first full-length movie.
Annie (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) is a waitress at a terminal diner with ambitious plans to move up in life. Those plans involve two assassins (Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons), a dying teacher (Simon Pegg) and a janitor (Mike Myers sporting a questionable makeup job).
Robbie’s British accent is convincing enough although it comes off too forced and rehearsed. She continues to be a dynamic and mesmerizing on screen presence. For much of the film, Robbie has the look and confidence of a cat playing with a cornered mouse. There’s an air of Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell as Annie weaponizes her sexuality to make every guy quivering masses in her hands.
It was nice to see Pegg have a spin with a less comedic character. As a man on borrowed time, Pegg brings a certain sadness and reluctant acceptance to his lot in life. With Annie, there’s perhaps one last chance to have a fleeting burst of happiness before his inevitable end.
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The assassins’ subplot isn’t as engaging as it’s clear early on that Annie is pitting them against each other. In hindsight, Stein probably should have kept Annie’s intentions a secret from the audience and not reveal she’s concocting this massive plot from the start. Cluing viewers in so early ruins the surprise factor that easily could have developed in the final act.
Too much of the script hinges on the payoff, which seems highly influenced by films like Usual Suspects and Lucky Number Slevin. Stein telegraphs Terminal’s two big twists long before the big reveals so the payoff is muted. That leads to one of those frustrating cinematic experiences where you’re waiting for the characters to catch up to the destination you already know is coming.
Where the script falters, the film’s visuals and cool noir style more than warrant a viewing. This is a stylish and neon drenched affair and Christopher Ross’ cinematography is packed with bright colors and gorgeous lighting. Maybe it’s too much of a good thing, but Terminal is worthy of overindulging.
Burying the mystery a bit deeper could have made the film his coming out party as the next big thing a la Christopher Nolan with Memento, but there’s no denying Terminal is a promising sign of Stein’s potential.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: RLJE Films