Terminal is complete nonsense but a grand time at the cinema
A bunch of shady characters’ paths cross – in scenes that may or may not be in chronological order (spoilers) – in a neo-noir cityscape that screams Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet meets a dystopian Alice in Wonderland. If this sounds cool, it is. If this sounds ridiculous, it’s that too. Terminal is complete nonsense but a roaring good time from start to finish. The seedy dealings do not hold together on closer inspection, but the actors and creative team seem to be having tremendous fun bringing their over-the-top characters and neon world to life.
Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie (who also executive produced the film) does not get to show her full emotional range, but her carefully crafted vocal and physical performance captivates. Simon Pegg, sporting a sadness beard and dark secrets, meanwhile, is unsettlingly understated; Max Irons and Dexter Fletcher make an amusingly antagonistic pair of crooks, and Mike Myers brings an off-kilter energy to a night cleaner who is always in the right place at the right time.
While the action clips along at an engaging rate, some variation in the pacing could have heightened the excitement. The music seemed the same (moderately energetic) tempo and volume throughout much of the film, which keeps things moving along but creates no inherent dramatic tension; when the score cuts out and literally changed its tune in the final act, the tension increases tenfold. That said, the dramatic structure suffers slightly due to the ordering of an exposition section with some of the film’s biggest surprises. Regarding those surprises, first-time director Vaughn Stein, working with cinematographer Christopher Ross, proves adept at framing and lighting shots for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reveals – a key ingredient in the film’s pulpy fun.
The plot does not make much sense, but the twists, turns, double crosses and reveals are engrossing in the moment. The dialogue does not reach poetic heights but neither does it try to make the characters more than the entertaining lowlifes they are. There is plenty of metatheatrical commentary on the neo-noir genre conventions, from the need for hitman consultants in Hollywood to the theatrics of the stereotypical shady deal. Sometimes this commentary is tongue in cheek and hilarious, and other times it felt a bit too cynical for this world – this is a film that no one should take seriously, and therefore the comedic delivery works better.
Terminal is not the film of the year or even the summer. It is, however, a lot of fun and gorgeous to look at. If the summer calls for an escapist film full of darkness, grime, and horrible people, this is a good choice.
Terminal screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 26 & 27 Jun – more info here – and is released in the UK 6 Jul by Arrow Films
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