Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"It's got some pretty dark moments, and some dark moments that are pretty."

Terminal has a few meanings, most predicated upon a sense of an ending. I'll borrow that after Barnes, as above and beyond its literary references it seems the end product of a litany of other films. While its weaknesses might see it as a destination to be avoided, it's got enough going for it to be a temporary stopping point.

I say references, because it's conjuring in a particular way with ingredients that have been used before. Filmed primarily in Budapest, a city so nice they named it twice, the metropolis of Terminal owes debts to all the usual suspects for neo-noir: to Proyas' Dark City, to Miller's Sin City, to the seedy streets of Se7en and a budget Blade Runner by way of British Rail Transport cafeterias, alleys that are dead ringers for ones you've seen before. Debts to Will Eisner's Central City, though Miller's Spirit didn't manage credits in the neon of the streets, and Terminal does. Debts to the Wachowski sisters' Matrix, not just in juxtapositions of blue and red on certain tables, but instructions and labels, red dresses for fresh Alices in neon holes. Following rabbits and owing debts can be dangerous.

Copy picture

In this neo-noirish cast (overwhelmingly male, pale) stride various vagabonds, in and around organised criminal doings. There's Max Irons, whose turns in Red Riding Hood and TV's The White Queen have perhaps prepared him for the homages to Wonderland. There's Dexter Fletcher, black suit, white shirt, black tie, as Vincent, vaguer in his motivations perhaps than others who've danced in similar shoes. There's Simon Pegg, in a role that relies on his charm perhaps a little too much, and Mike Myers, whose dialogue is peppered with quotations, affectations, perhaps unfortunately a touch of Much Ado About Nothing.

There's also Margot Robbie, whose film this is. Not just because she's got a producer credit, but because top and tail, ear to toe, she makes it. She's all the best things in the film, her ability to pivot (both figuratively and literally) made good use of in hauteur and heels, in pose and proposal, in all the ways so tragically underused by Suicide Squad. There are others here - those chaps named above - and small roles for Thomas Turgoose and Matthew Lewis as troubled muggers, but Margot's picture is at the core. Not just on our screen, on control room cathode rays, behind glasses of Victory gin, over 40 pence coffee, near sticky buns and sticky labels. Between them and the smoking and the state of telephony it might just be a before 1984. It's certainly indebted to another novel, another set of genres.

There are action movie clichés like the meeting in the strip club, one with a stairwell figure in a fez with a hookah, requests for "filthy lap dances" rarely met with the retort, "Eat me". There's a queen in the corner and an ace in the hole, someone not playing with a full deck, a veritable nest of cuckoos but no motorways to fly-over. The trains aren't running, everything's pedestrian, and so too, sadly, is Terminal. Despite most characters having single names, there's a moment that might recall The Driver. The violence has a certain finality.

It's got good moments. There's a reference to making a pencil disappear that gets more weight from an old boyfriend, the production design is just off enough in kilter to walk a varicoloured line - a squared off subway logo, typewritten tags with no typewriters in sight, rotary phones as things come back round again, recalled.

Written and directed by Vaughn Stein, this is a début feature but far from his first film. Beyond those dual roles for Yussef Is Complicated, he's got a score or more of second, third, assistant directorial duties, though it's perhaps notable that for someone whose CV features quite so many roles wrangling crowds beyond the club this is a film of ones and twos, focuses on faces and reflections.

It reminded me most, in fact, of 2000AD. Not perhaps the Downlode of Sinister Dexter, which so gleefully borrows that I have Matchbox cars of types used as models for vehicles on those gunshark pages. More perhaps a counterfactual comic caper that uses cast as wilfully as did the version of A Life Less Ordinary that graced Tharg's organ in those heady 1990s. The colour coding (reds, greens, blues, even yellows that give an intermittent giallo gloss to proceedings) could by the CMYK of print as readily as the RGB of screen. That K, key, is darkness, and though there are neon lights aplenty, that darkness is abundant. It's also an overwhelmingly British take on an ordinarily Americanised genre, in ways beyond cast and accent, in tone and grime and humour.

It's got a few twists, but drops enough hints that they don't feel like betrayal, at least to the audience. It's got a few nice bits of metatextuality, there's a pitch perfect response to "pathetic fallacy" in a film that's arguably borrowing trouble by bringing it up. It's got Robbie, who in and of herself earns the film some marks, even as various scams and cons are seeking theirs. It's got some pretty dark moments, and some dark moments that are pretty, and enough going on that it should probably carry a couple of content warnings. It has an appropriate reaction to an ongoing discussion of suicide, or at least someone mentioned the option of counselling. It's got enough going on that its 90 odd minutes pass by pleasantly enough, but at the end of the line it's not got enough to make a point of seeing it.

Reviewed on: 04 Jul 2018
Share this with others on...
The tales of two assassins carrying out a sinister mission, a teacher battling a fatal illness, an enigmatic janitor and a curious waitress leading a dangerous double life.
Amazon link

Director: Vaughn Stein

Writer: Vaughn Stein

Starring: Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Dexter Fletcher, Mike Myers, Max Irons, Katarina Cas, Nick Moran, Les Loveday, Jourdan Dunn, Matthew Lewis, Thomas Turgoose, Jay Simpson, Benjamin Griffin, Robert Goodman, Paul Reynolds

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland, UK, Hong Kong, Hungary, US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Hitman's Bodyguard