Monday 9 May 2016

Movie Review: A Hologram For The King (2016)

A truncated drama and romance, A Hologram For The King plays with a smattering of potentially interesting ideas and does little with most of them.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is an experienced but down-on-his-luck salesperson who has lost his house and divorced his wife in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Now working for a technology company, Clay is sent to Saudi Arabia to pitch a major sale of holographic teleconferencing equipment. Once in the Kingdom, Clay suffers from jet lag and is exposed to culture shock and the slow pace of doing business, with appointments not met and promises not kept. He is helped to a degree by driver/guide Yousef (Alexander Black), who is suffering through his own personal crisis, and Danish consultant Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who has more experience in navigating local customs.

Clay is also struggling with a lumpy growth on his back, a condition that finally forces him to seek the help of Doctor Zahra Hakim (Sarita Choudhury). She is also going through a divorce, and the two connect and start to explore the potential for romance. But in a conservative society with its own set of rules, Alan will have challenges ahead in both his business and personal quests.

Directed and written by Tom Tykwer, A Hologram For The King introduces several intriguing themes but fails to find a compelling voice. Alan Clay's past failures are featured in tiny snippets that hint at his failed marriage and regrettable previous business decisions (he relocated a bicycle manufacturing business to China), but these are at best sketched-in headlines with no depth.

The culture shock angle gets the most exposition, but is ultimately left floundering. It's never clear if the film is trying to be factual, disrespectful or judgemental of Saudi culture. Yousef the driver is intended as a gateway to explaining local customs and gets plenty of screen time, including a visit to his ancestral village, but his story ends in an unconvincing whimper. The entire interaction with Hanne appears and vanishes like a hallucinatory desert mirage.

The romance is handled better. Although the serious parts of the relationship with Zahra arrive late, the bonding progresses quickly and there are some pleasing moments of maturity in observing two life-hardened adults as they navigate their way to much-needed relief and pleasure.

Tom Hanks is the main reason to watch A Hologram For The King, and he gives a typically dependable performance. Despite the limited material, Hanks infuses depth into the character, and is convincing in portraying the bottled up frustration of a man close to the limit but forced to push for one final deal in a foreign land. Most of the main Saudi characters, including Yousef and Zahra, are unfortunately portrayed by other ethnicities, while Tom Skerritt appears briefly as Alan's antagonized dad.

A Hologram For A King ends in a remarkable rush, Tykwer seemingly running out of interest and curtailing all the plot elements in 30 seconds of narration. It's a frustratingly fitting end to an overall unsatisfactory experience.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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