Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury
A Hologram for the King follows 2015's Bridge of Spies (yet to be reviewed by me but I will) along with another stellar performance in Captain Phillips.
The film opens up with a bizarre sequence with Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) seeing his house, car and marriage literally going up in smoke, before some very quick editing cuts place him on a plane en route to Saudi Arabia.
Why is an American businessman going to the Kingdom? Given how difficult it is to get into the country in the first place (you have to be sponsored to enter the country - I know, because I was in Bahrain in 2000 and was told in no uncertain terms that crossing the border was a no-no).
Well, Alan is on the Last Big Deal (TM) of a lifetime. He'd previously been in charge of a huge number of people and had to lay them off when Chinese imports undercut them in price. If he doesn't get this deal closed, and thus provide a Hologram for the King, his professional as well as his personal life will be broken, and he may never recover from it.
As well as a broken marriage and hastily run through divorce, Alan is paying for his daughter's college education, and the closing of the deal becomes more important. So we have a set up, a back story, a reason for why Alan is doing what he is doing.
The film switches between comedy and drama, but it's not easy done or easy to watch as a film lover. There's too many cliches thrown in such as Culture Shock (TM). What? Saudi Arabia doesn't have decent wi-fi in an area where an IT company is setting up a presentation?
Alan meets his team, who have been stuck in a tent in the middle of the desert somewhere. They don't have wi-fi for their particular needs. It's a weak signal at best, and no, they don't have food either. In another scene and appearance of Culture Shock (TM), Alan is unable to get the secretary to be helpful. She abruptly informs him that his contact will not be meeting him, so the things his team needs cannot be provided that day. She does it with a smile at least, but it's too typical of many supposed cultural shocks that foreigners are not used to, because of course it works differently in the home country.
Okay, I could understand the difficulties of a foreign company setting up shop in a place like Saudi Arabia.
There would be teething problems. But what does his team actually do when Hanks is not on screen?
Meanwhile, in his hotel he is unable to procure any beer. Fair enough, that's the country's rule. However, his contact, when he eventually meets him, is able to to provide a cool beer. What message are we being sent here? The same message about the World Cup 2022 in Qatar? That rules and traditions can be bent or discarded altogether where money is involved?
Even though the film had a bizarre, disjointed start, I thought it would settle down. It doesn't. And even when you think something is going to happen, such as the meeting of Chicago and ELO loving local taxi driver Yousef (played earnestly by Alexander Black) and he forewarns Alan that his car is under threat of being wired. When Alan merely thinks that means it will be stolen, he is told 'No, wired means someone has attached a bomb to the car.'
I didn't know whether to laugh at that line, or be scared for our main character. And that's the film's biggest problem - it never draws you in. You feel very much like a hologram, actually. I felt completely hollowed at this point, because nothing of note was happening.
The farce - albeit a moderately acceptable one, of the King maybe arriving today, next week, but 'hopefully not months' wears thin quickly. I started to believe that the King actually was toying with his American 'friends' and planned to go off to Yemen or something. At least then they could pack up and go home, which at this point I wanted to.
(It was at that point that my OH, Katie, provided the highlight of the evening by mishandling her popcorn (because we know how tricky that can be) and spilling it everywhere. We were in Gold Class at the cinema which means that only a handful of seats are there compared to a much larger auditorium. I like the free popcorn and reclining electric seats too. But if I did an eye-roll in the darkness, Katie didn't see it. But I did chuckle.)
Maybe I was missing something, but a few seats up from Katie, another viewer seemed to be having the time of his life, and was laughing at most of the scenes.
That would be fine but A Hologram for the King never makes its case to us, so we are as much in the dark as to the type of story they are trying to present. This is a big disappointment, to put it mildly.
The other company crew that are based there seem like caricatures too. Hanne, a lady of Danish origins, is there purely to get Alan into bed. This plays into another Overplayed European Cliche (TM) that Danish women are 'easy' and will throw themselves at any man. The film never makes it clear if Hanne hasn't had sex in a long time or not. She takes Alan to a Europop Drugs Party (TM) and though she probably could have any man she wanted...I'm guessing she picks Alan for the sole reason that she hasn't. Yet.
She whispers to him 'Let's make a mistake.' Cue more eye-rolling from me. Attention single boys - if you want an easy lay, go to Denmark. Or find the nearest Danish girl you can. It's that easy.
I really started to hate the film at this point. There is simply no reason for a man in Alan's fragile state - emotional financial, personal and professional - to simply fool around with this woman. She throws herself at him for no reason at all.
Other things like this are littered throughout the movie.
Yousef picks up a cousin and he takes a turn in the road leading to Mecca, a place in which non-Muslims are not allowed. Even when the car drives through a packed street with police and other Saudi locals, they never catch on that there is a white male in the car. Not that Alan bothers to cover his head and face. The argument over taking the road to Mecca, because according to Yousef, he always drives that way.
Maybe the Saudi force really are that stupid. But I don't think so. Here's an American movie giving two fingers to another culture that politically, it allies itself with, but culturally (and on a basic respect level) it is wide of the mark.
Yousef even casually points out the place where executions happen, to which Alan exclaims "In Public?". I mean, come on....don't insult the viewer. People who know anything about Saudi Arabia is that it is one of those countries that carry out public executions. I don't even know if half the material that ended up in this film is in David Eggers 2012 book of the same name. Apparently Tom Hanks read the book and tweeted to the author about it. Is that how films get made today?
Nothing happens! The drive - through, to and beyond Mecca should have had some kind of payoff...I don't know...Alan is captured by the Saudi forces and stoned to death. Yousef's car actually blows up. His cousin starts talking in English. I don't know....just give us something....anything!
The Next Big Joke (TM) is played on another of Yousef's cousins when Alan tells him he is working freelance with the CIA, which he is not, but that doesn't matter. It would have been better plot-wise, perhaps, but this film lacks one.
By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks' career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.
Yousef curtly tells Alan that 'it's like telling someone in the airport that you have a bomb'. True. Not funny. Not appropriate at all.
Then there's the scene with the wolf. I think 'Aha! Something is going to happen'....then it doesn't.
The third act sees Alan falling for his doctor, played by Indian-English actress Sarita Choudhury. Earlier in the film she helps him with the lump on his back, which could be cancerous, so that have to deal with it. Again, this should have elicited an emotional response from me, but frankly, we don't care about Alan. The character is weak, and Tom Hanks does not look comfortable in the skin of this person, who is at hollow and soulless as the Hologram in the title.
Choudhury plays up to yet another cliche of Scowling Foreign Woman (TM). She's professional and a good doctor. But the ropey romance scenes - dragged from the corpse of Hanks other calamity of the 2000s, You've Got Mail, do not work. Again, there is no reason for the good doctor to fall for Hanks' character.
The email sequences are badly handled, and are even more toe-curlingly awful than anything You've Got Mail had got to offer (and that film had nothing to offer).
Maybe it's me. And readers of this who loved the film may think I should just go back to watching The Hunger Games and Star Wars.
Maybe I will. At least then I will be entertained.
A Hologram for the King tries to be an intellectual comedy drama, but it fails on practically every level.
Should you see it? Only if you are a Tom Hanks completest and / or a fan of Egger's novels. And stop with the redundant imagery please. When Hanks says that the lump on his back is like spiders trying to break out, I thought, no....I know what was in that lump... a plot!!
Sadly the director decided to discard it, just like Hanks does with his own sickening self surgery.
By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.
In summary: You've Got Meh. Watch it and expect nothing, then you might just be entertained.
Spectre < Previous / Next > Star Wars: The Force Awakens