Posted May 25 2016

A Hologram For The King - This Movie Saudi Rocks In A Welcome Low Key

Dir: Tom Tykwer

Starring Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidsie Babett Knudson, Tom Skerritt

Opens by riffing on the Talking Heads, throws in some much welcome ELO later on, and along the way elicits a fine performance from Hanks that mixes humour with anxiety and sympathetically creates an engaging portrait of a man in a degree of crisis, in a country as alien to him as could be. Tyker’s take on Dave Eggers’ book may ultimately be a slight movie, even uncertain of its heading at times, but it’s ultimately a warm and quietly rewarding one.

Hanks’ proverbial everyman finds himself in midlife free fall and Saudi Arabia both. The former manifests itself as an unwanted and unspecified cyst on his back, the latter sees him as a failing businessman out to sell a new holographic IT system to the Saudi King, before the Chinese beat him to it. A matter made all the more difficult by the King’s constant failure to actually be found in his own kingdom.

Beautifully shot on location – with Morocco largely doubling for Saudi – Tykwer’s film sees this unique world from the POV of the outsider trying to look in. The focus is very much on Hanks’ American fish out of water, but the film manages to present the edges of another culture in a way that is never patronising, if seldom expansive. Hanks is on splendid form – as he gets older, and fully embraces his getting older, the actor is mining a very decent new line in quiet universal despair, the smile playing on his lips only there to hide the fear underneath. He is ably abetted here by Black in the Arab sidekick role as driver and guide Yusef, with the relative newcomer acquitting himself remarkably well, almost stealing certain moments from the lead.

There’s inevitably a culturally awkward (though at least age appropriate) romance with Choudhury’s doctor. But it’s to everyone’s credit that this is kept simple and sweet and actually works.

Hanks’ salesman is in Saudi to try and change the world – his and theirs. This movie certainly won’t change either yours or ours. But for an hour and a half you may find yourself in a pretty decent place. And you may say to yourself – My God, how did they do that?


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