Margot Robbie in Terminal sees her continuing a pattern. She appeared as the infamous Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and she’s expected to reprise the role with Suicide Squad 2, a Harley Quinn/Joker film, along with a standalone movie. In most regards, her appearance as an assassin in Terminal could be a warmup act, showcasing her strengths in playing a complete psycho.
Terminal has Robbie playing Annie, an assassin who’s after the bulk of contracts assigned in a dilapidated British city through the anonymous Mr. Franklyn. Robbie’s Annie makes the request in a confessional booth at a church, speaking to the mafioso as if the act of killing was one assigned by God himself. She makes a wager. She’ll take care of all the “interested parties” in the city, referring to the other hitmen, and if she doesn’t, Mr. Franklyn is free to place her head on the chopping block.
The movie starts off with strong film noir foundations, utilizing the femme fatale and a strong environment of grim despair. The settings are dressed in all kinds of depression. A near-abandoned city run by criminals where the liveliest locales are a diner and strip club. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent establishment based on sound moral footing, so retirement homes and lemonade stands are out of the equation. Most scenes take place at night, decorated with neon lighting to highlight just enough of the characters, leaving enough darkness to accentuate the overall mysteries of the story.
And there are plenty of mysteries to ponder on. Chief among them is the identity of Mr. Franklyn, who plays a Big Brother role and observes all within the city limits on his giant wall of TV screens. Then there are the “interested parties,” Hitman Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and his young apprentice Alfred (Max Irons) who get pulled into a vortex of shit by Annie. Finally, we have Bill (Simon Pegg), a terminally ill English teacher who strikes up a conversation with Annie at a diner (masquerading as the hostess).
This last thread was the most confounding as it lied outside the realm and control of the hired guns story, but it was the most compelling in drawing out a strong character for Robbie’s Annie. After learning of Bill’s prognosis, Annie starts to brainstorm ways in which the dying man can kill himself. Falling off a cliff. Getting Run over by a car. Being gunned down by a hitman. She lays out all the options knowing what she plans to do with him, but the motive remains unclear. Why would she target this seemingly irrelevant and benign English teacher?
Using the strategy that most mystery movies utilize, all the strings get tied together in the last 10 minutes of Terminal. It’s a crazy ride which condenses much of what the audience was guessing into a few short minutes. Within a few scenes, you’ll understand how the assassins, Mr. Franklyn, and Bill all come together, subverting the status quo of the city in a bold and unpredictable ploy led by Robbie’s character.
It’s a fascinating maneuver giving Terminal more than its outward appearance of a hitmen/hitperson movie, providing a little more depth to the plot than you’d expect. And Robbie’s Annie is the center of it all. With most movies that deal with unscrupulous characters, there’s an understanding that the audience takes these characters at face value. That’s just the way these characters are, we assume. In Terminal, writer and director Vaughn Stein takes matters a step further to explain Annie, helping you understand her machinations and motivations, and it’s a gut punch delivered right at the end. Is Mr. Franklyn the ever-present almighty, or can another character in the scheme of things unravel everything to upend his criminal monopoly?
Stein’s direction is impeccable. The use of lighting and symmetry to shift focus to the appropriate characters in the right instance is craftily managed. Using different setups, he uses the neon red and blue to highlight different characters that are quite diametrically opposite to each other. And sometimes, these different colors illuminate the same character at different times, indicating a change in intentions or ambivalence about the person in general. You’re not quite sure who to root for at times, and your allegiances change back and forth. It’s a strength of the movie since each character faces some form of peril so that you’ll be tossing and turning at points.
Terminal won’t knock your socks off, but there’s enough in the way of a strong Margot Robbie character to keep you invested. The supporting cast with Simon Pegg in tow should give you more to chew on. And let’s not forget Mike Myers’ turn as Clinton the train station janitor, who gives you plenty to keep questioning throughout.
If you want to give some other mystery movies out, check these reviews.