Spielberg's homecoming happens entirely in JFK airport where an Eastern European called Victor - played by Tom Hanks - lands at the exact moment that a revolution means his nation ceases to exist.
(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)
I think it's Steven Spielberg's best film in a very long time. I've always thought he was a better entertainer than pontificator, I always thought that Jaws was a better film than Schindler's List. I think he's taken himself too seriously of late. The best thing about this is it's frivolous, it's Kafka as retold by Forrest Gump. There are a couple of very good performances. Tom Hanks is a great physical comedian, think back to films like Splash. Stanley Tucci is great and I think these two play off each other nicely. The point in which it falls apart is when Spielberg wants to make it a film about the American experience, which I think is too schmaltzy. Secondly, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays his love interest, which she gets given nothing to do and she does it rather badly. And there are the superfluous endings, I counted at least three endings when one would have been sufficient.
None of which we'll give away. But they are sentimental.
They are very sentimental but I think that buried within that two hour mess of a movie, there is 90 minutes of a very good, very quirky character comedy. For me it was a relief to see Spielberg down- gearing for a while.
Well, I think this is probably the worst film I've ever seen. And so I'm sitting here listening to Mark and thinking this man could find gold in a dung hill! I found Hanks' performance insensitive to the nth degree. I was so enraged by the endless comedy of not understanding English. Ha ha! How funny! Here we are at an international airport and nobody speaks a central Asian language, or whatever it was supposed to be. It's a gross caricature and we're meant to find it amusing that people keep talking to him in complicated ways about bureaucratic nonsense and he keeps misunderstanding, apart from placing products all over the place - "Where can I buy the Nike shoes?" I actually think that Catherine Zeta-Jones did something normally she can't do. She managed to be plain, unattractive and uninteresting - which I think is what they wanted her to be. They think they can make a movie like this without a real writer, so that you kept having cameo plots that went nowhere. The cameo plot of the cleaner goes nowhere. The cameo plot of the thieves' banquet goes nowhere. I kept thinking if Fellini or almost anyone else but Spielberg had made this movie ... I think that it almost knocks back to the rest of his work.
I'm somewhere in the middle. A couple of times I was touched emotionally, but that's because Spielberg is a master film maker. He knows how to push the right buttons, the music comes in at the right time, close-up comes in, the lovely tracking shots. However, I could not suspend disbelief through this. I just kept going, I don't believe this story. Even though it's based on a - very loosely based on the true life story.
It's been a night for bold statements and I've worked with Mark Kermode for three years and I've never agreed with him knowingly on a film. But tonight I do. I couldn't believe some of the newspaper reviews this morning. People accuse Spielberg of being patronising, but they're patronising him. He's a sentimental populist you have to take that. People are all going on about product placement, when Oliver Stone has a half-hour film in a supermarket, everyone says fantastic vision of American capitalism. Spielberg does it and everyone says product placement. He's showing you how the airport looks. The way he handles a camera, people will not give him credit for this - the confidence of those movements and the look of it.
If I can come back on some specific points; firstly I think you're grossly unfair to what Hanks is doing. His comedy is a physical comedy, it's not about not understanding the verbal language. Actually 90% of that film is a physical comedy between him and Stanley Tucci. The cameraman understands that and beautifully captures their facial expressions and their bodily movements against the stillness of the terminal. That is a technical thing he does very well.
But it doesn't work.
Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn't look very plain. That's why the whole sub-plot about her falling for the Hanks character doesn't work.
Except I would say without a shadow of a doubt that it was shot very, very well and that Hanks for my money gives a good performance. It's his genre, it's comedic and dramatic. I think fundamentally where the film falls down is where Spielberg is trying to make a comment on America, trying to say this wonderful multicultural America, this is how we can get back to who we are. But also I think there's a moment in the film where one the characters says wouldn't this be brilliant if the world were like this in this airport? And you kind of went, oh! I felt actually that Spielberg was trying to make a comment about Bush, saying that this is how America really should be.