Title: A Hologram For The King
Director: Tom Tykwer
Major Players: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury
Out Of Five: 3
On the same day I waded through the liquid concrete of Christian Bale trying to find some meaning in his life in Malick’s Knight Of Cups, I came across another man trying to the same thing, but in a wholly different way. He was Tom Hanks and the film was the adaptation of David Eggers’ novel, A Hologram For The King.
And here, everybody’s favourite Everyman is an ace salesman: to the outside world, he’s always Mr Positive. After taking some serious personal and professional knocks, he’s working for an IT company bidding for a massively lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia. He’s leading the presentation team but, once there, he encounters all kinds of obstacles with preparing their pitch – as well as his own health issues. And just a little bit of middle aged romance.
So Hanks is back in his eminently likeable Everyman mode, a latter day Jimmy Stewart without the drawl, and it’s something he can do in his sleep. There’s a bit more interest added this time round by his back story. His divorce has shattered him, he’s haunted by memories of a previous job where he had to make an entire workforce redundant – as his father never fails to remind him every single time they talk to each other – and then he has a health scare to contend with.
He’s not the only one who’s not what he seems. The story revolves around the city of Jeddah and, from the outside, it’s a city like any other: skyscrapers, shops, restaurants. It could be anywhere. Until, that is, he comes into contact with the people on a professional level. They’re unfailingly polite but, unless you happen to speak to exactly the right person and understand all the protocols, you’re stonewalled at every single turn. You wonder how on earth they manage to get anything done, but their ambitions for their huge expanse of sand are enormous – an entire city.
So there’s lots of cultural clashes and lots of fish out of water moments with Hanks as the fish. He suffers badly from jet-lag and is constantly oversleeping. Thanks to the hotel, he rents a car with a driver, Hassan (Alexander Black) who becomes his unofficial guide. The car’s a near wreck, with a nodding camel on the dashboard and Hassan plays all kinds of music from the West – Elvis, ELO, Chicago, not all of which is to Hanks’ liking (nor was any of it chosen for his recent Desert Island Discs appearances). But because he’s spent time in the States, his English is near perfect and he has a very savvy understanding of Westerners. He’s also highly entertaining and the scenes between him and Hanks are very nicely done. Black is amusingly convincing and it didn’t occur to me once that he might be American. Sadly, he’s written out of most of the second half of the film and it’s the poorer for it.
Essentially, the film is a meander through the desert in the company of Hanks. For a while the film is all about getting the job done in the middle of the desert, then we’re diverted when he goes with Hassan to visit his family in a remote village. Then it’s back to the job, then we’re off on another tangent, this time with his visits to the hospital for an operation and his burgeoning relationship with the female doctor (Sarita Choudhury). After which, it’s all wrapped up very quickly. There’s actually a number of potentially interesting stories knocking around here, but most of them are under-developed, leaving it to Hanks and, when he’s there, Black that keep the thing afloat. Otherwise, despite being likeable and diverting, it’s really rather patchy and nothing special.
And it’s a total waste of Ben Whishaw!
A Hologram For The King is released in cinemas on Friday, 20 May and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 19 May.