UK Release Date: 20th May 2016
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Tom Tykwer
Writer: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury, Alexander Black, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ben Whishaw, Khalid Laith
Synopsis: An American businessman must grapple with an unusual negotiation when he travels to Saudi Arabia to sell an innovative IT system to royalty.
It’s fair to say that Tom Hanks is probably Hollywood’s most likeable leading man. He has carved out a niche for himself as the reliable everyman at the centre of many of American cinema’s best recent films. It’s tough to find a film starring Hanks in which he gives anything less than a solid gold performance, particularly given strong work in recent movies like Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies. For his latest film, however, he has gone more than a little weird with the truly bizarre drama A Hologram for the King, in which Hanks steps into the role of a frazzled businessman stranded in thousands of miles from home with a career-defining deal to make.
Alan Clay (Hanks) is a washed-up salesman sent by his company to Saudi Arabia in order to sell the country’s king a high-tech hologram system. When he wakes up late at his hotel on the first day, he immediately forms a kinship with taxi driver Yousef (Alexander Black). The negotiations are odd, with his team forced to work in a tent and the king absent with no timetable for either his return or that of elusive spokesman Karim Al-Ahmed (Khalid Laith). In amidst all of the fractured discussions, Alan visits doctor Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) after discovering a growth on his back.
A Hologram for the King is a very strange film and one that doesn’t necessarily warrant being transposed from its source novel to the silver screen. When it opens with a punchy, much-advertised rendition of ‘Once in a Lifetime’, it seems to be preparing for an offbeat comedic tale, but what actually unfolds is a rather straight-faced drama, punctuated by occasional flashes of weird humour. Writer-director Tom Tykwer tries desperately to imbue the film with some energy, ably assisted by Hanks, but the story simply does not have enough steam to get it across the finishing line.
Very few of the problems with A Hologram for the King are the fault of Hanks’ central performance. He’s as likeable as always and makes the most of a fun relationship with Alexander Black as his scene-stealing cabbie. It’s these scenes that give the film what energy it has, although a lengthy break in the narrative that sees Hanks travel to meet Black’s character’s family seems to serve little purpose in the grand scheme of the movie. Even more underwritten, though, is the romantic subplot between Hanks and Sarita Choudhury, which seems to blossom out of nowhere when the film needs some sort of rousing third act emotional pay-off.
A Hologram for the King is simply a film that cannot rise above its own rather generic storytelling. It’s not a plot that bothers to create any emotional investment in its characters and it doesn’t deliver enough laughs to work as an out-and-out comedy movie. The moments of surrealism and strangeness arrive without context or reason and, as a result, they jar the film out of whatever reality it is trying to place itself within.
In Tom Hanks, though, A Hologram for the King has a trump card and, when the story is placed upon Hanks’ acting, he’s as good as he always has been. This isn’t the sort of film that’s going to go on to define the careers of any of the performers in it, but it’s far from a turkey.
Pop or Poop?
Tom Tykwer struggles with very unusual material in A Hologram for the King and is never able to provide a compelling reason for the audience to become invested in the story. Hanks’ performance is as broadly enjoyable as always and Alexander Black provides fun comic support, but the undercooked romance plotline is the final nail in its coffin.
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