Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw
Written by Fiona Underhill
I will nearly always be up for a new Tom Hanks film (unless it’s Cloud Atlas – shudder). I don’t even hate ‘The Da Vinci Code’ as much as most people, that’s how much I like Tom Hanks. I liked the trailer for ‘A Hologram for the King’ and my interest was also piqued by the author, Dave Eggers. Although I haven’t read this particular book, I have read some of his others and followed his work with McSweeney’s. So, if my hopes were not exactly high, I was at least intrigued.
‘A Hologram for the King’ is the latest in a series of recession-set films, and I am glad that the film world is starting to address the post-2008 climate (99 Homes is a recent excellent example). Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) has had to make lay-offs at his company and moved the business to China. He is now a struggling IT worker, desperate to impress his boss and his Dad (Tom Skerritt). So, he sets off to Saudi Arabia, hoping to wow the King with a new IT system that takes the idea of video conferencing one step further by using hologram projection. Clay – struggling with jet-lag, anxiety and hypochondria – quickly realises that the “city” is not at the advanced stages he might have expected. He befriends his driver (Alexander Black), who believes a love rival is trying to kill him. Along his way, Clay befriends his driver, meets a sexy Danish woman and has an unbelievable encounter with her at a sort of erotic rave (yes, I’m still talking about the 60 year old Hanks here), before finally meeting and falling for his doctor – a beautiful Arabian played by Sarita Choudhury.
There are elements of this film that are racially “dubious” and uncomfortable. His driver, Yousef, is played by an actor from LA who doesn’t look particularly Arabian, it must be said. There is a ridiculous scene that involves them accidentally driving into Mecca with a non-Muslim (Clay) in the car. Yousef asks Clay not to look at the Sacred Mosque directly. I felt, as an audience member, I should also be averting my eyes. Even if it was not the real location, it was depicting something sacred and I felt awkward about the whole sequence. Also Clay’s relationship with Zahra (Choudhury) seems unbelievable – she is risking everything in meeting with him alone and going on a date with him.
There were enjoyable elements in the film – I liked the soundtrack a lot. There were also some interesting moments of editing and some great fantasy elements, which I wish they had taken further. Hanks, as always, is a joy to watch. He is a gifted physical comedian – the scenes where he was alone in his hotel room were perhaps the best. The film is funny, but I didn’t laugh out loud at any point. The desert location where the “city” is being constructed was interesting and one of the more believable elements.
Ben Wishaw appears in a thankless and bizarre cameo, basically as his Q character from the Bond series. One can only imagine what he was paid for this gig, because he was completely wasted. Although I felt I spent a pleasant evening in the company of ‘A Hologram for the King’, there were definitely elements that left a sour taste in my mouth. It is disappointing, especially with the pedigree of the writer, that something better was not created on screen. I fear that this cinema experience is going to prove forgettable, as the film was ultimately paper-thin and liable to fly away on a desert wind.