If the Krays had found themselves in Alex Proyas’s film Dark City, boy, would they have been surprised. Yet, that is basically what we can expect from this weird blend of the highly noir and somewhat surreal. The train station setting feels nostalgic, but the eccentric anti-heroes seem to exist outside of time in Vaughn Stein’s Terminal (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
When paths cross in this lonely, eternally nocturnal rail station, it is never a coincidence. However, it will take a while for the twains to meet. Annie, a flirty but rather morbid waitress at the End of the Line Café will factor prominently in both narrative strands. She will spend a long dark night of the soul with Bill, a schoolmaster facing up to his fatal illness, but rather than consolation, she offers constructive suicide tips. Yet, the old pedagogue rather appreciates her macabre sense of humor.
Alfred also quite appreciates her, but his interests are more carnal. He is the junior member of a two-man hit-team, who have just received their first commission from the city’s notoriously reclusive mob boss. Much to the surprise of Alfred’s senior partner, Vince, Annie happens to be one of his agents. In fact, she turns out to have all sorts of sidelines, including dancing at Mr. Big’s Gentleman’s club.
Terminal has the weirdest analog retro-dystopian Edward Hopper-esque vibe. It commits all kinds of sins, including a pivotal scene that looks like an homage to 1980s billowing dry ice music videos, but it is so defiant, it is hard not to be won over by it. Naturally, there are plenty of Alice in Wonderland references, but the atmosphere is something like Dark City, Streets of Fire, and Alan Moore’s Show Pieces (admittedly, that one won’t mean much to American audiences), blended together. However, there is no question the two-handed scenes shared by Annie and Bill work better than the more conventional hitman stuff with Alfred and Vince.
Regardless, Margot Robbie is deliciously sly and unhinged as Annie. She develops some particularly intriguing chemistry with Simon Pegg, who is terrific as the mordant and world-weary Bill. Alas, the big revelation of their storyline is a dashed disappointment, sabotaging their sparring with a terrible cliché. Still, it is good while it lasts. Plus, Max Irons is weirdly charismatic as Killer Alfred, while the almost impossibly abrasive cynicism of Dexter Fletcher’s Killer Vince is impressive, in its way. On the other hand, Mike Myers cannot help tipping our suspicions as the janitor who keeps turning up in each narrative.
Viewers will feel like they should have expected a lot of the film’s twists, but to Stein’s credit, he sneaks them past us, use magicians’ tricks of distraction. Christopher Ross’s appropriately moody cinematography double, triples, and then quadruples down on noir. Yet, there is never any question this is Robbie’s show. Recommended for fans of twisty rabbit-hole movies, Terminal opens this Friday (5/11) in LA, at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and also releases day-and-date on iTunes.