Review: A Hologram for the King
PLOT: An American businessman travels to Saudi Arabia hoping to make a huge financial deal for his company. While there he befriends a taxi driver and a beautiful doctor, both of whom give the man a unique perspective on his own life.
REVIEW: Anyone who has ever traveled abroad is fully aware of the culture shock, jet lag and all the side effects of traveling to an unknown world. That is part of the appeal of A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING, the latest feature from Tom Tykwer. Tom Hanks is an American businessman sent to Saudi Arabia to close a deal on a new technology to the country and its King. Hanks is the perfect choice as he is equally strong at the much needed humor, as well as the very personal dramatic aspect. We learn much about the character from the memories of him being with his daughter and his interaction with the people he meets on his travels. Tykwer sets up this story with assuredness and a sense of whimsy. It is an incredibly appealing take on the traveler abroad tale. In the opening of the film we see Tom Hanks doing surprising justice to the Talking Heads classic tune “Once in a Lifetime” in a very clever introduction to Hanks and the journey of self discovery he is about to take.
Alan Clay (Hanks) has lost his way. He is currently representing a company on the verge of making a huge sale in Saudi Arabia. Yet his personal life is left in shambles. He can’t help pay for his daughter’s college education - something he promised to do. And he and his wife have parted ways in an ugly battle. We learn all of this quickly as we see Alan arrive in Saudi Arabia with memories in tow, while his team of workers are having to deal with an undesirable work situation. While trying to figure out when his crew can make a presentation to the King, Clay struggles with the time change, as well as concern about a large lump that he has on his back. Because of that, he befriends a taxi driver named Yousef (Alexander Black) and an attractive doctor named Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury).
Written and directed by Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN, CLOUD ATLAS), this strange journey into the unknown is gorgeously shot. While the filmmaker was unable to shoot in Saudi Arabia, he makes terrific use of Morocco to substitute for the area which the movie takes place. Considering Alan Clay is suffering so heavily from culture shock in an unknown part of the world, the director uses this to his advantage. The film at times ventures slightly into dangerous territory. When Alan inadvertently ends up in the holy city of Mecca, a place where non-Muslims are not allowed, there is certainly a bit of tension. However, A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING never bogs the viewer down with any heavy political message. This is simply a fish out of water story, one that will possibly resonate for many those who may find themselves on a similar journey as Alan.
It's nice to see Tom Hanks as Alan. He is charismatic, yet terribly flawed. As terrific as he is here, he is very open to letting some of the other actors shine. Sarita Choudhury and Hanks have a very sweet and satisfying connection, one that hints at the danger of romance in a world that is far different from the dating culture in Boston, where Alan Clay is from. Yet the real stand out here is newcomer, American actor Alexander Black - chosen in a world-wide search to star in the film. Mr. Black is one of the best things I’ve seen on film this year. He and Hanks make for a wonderful team, and if this is any indication, we’ll be seeing a ton of Mr. Black in the near future.
Based on the novel by Dave Eggers, Tykwer has done a fine job of translating the material to the big screen. The dialogue is funny, as well as touching. Some of the most poignant moments involve simple choices that just make the characters all the more relatable. The car ride that Clay shares with Yousef is especially humerous. It also helps that the film features a fitting and creative soundtrack that plays a big part while the two are on the road. Near the final act however, the focus on Clay and Zahra does lose some of the energy, until then the story shifts between the supporting characters and that is a bit more entertaining. Even still, by then we are invested enough in their relationship so it’s a minor complaint.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING is a beautifully shot film, one that offers up pure escapism. Hanks is of course solid as a man facing his own unique mid-life crisis. Yet it is Alexander Black who is the biggest surprise. He is fantastic as a taxi driver who has his own demons, including an on-going relationship with a married woman. The actor is certainly one to watch. In fact, before I wrote the review I had no idea that this was his first feature film. Black is absolutely fantastic. If you are a fan of Tykwer or Hanks, you will definitely find much to enjoy in their latest collaboration. This comedic drama is a refreshingly optimistic film-going experience. Plus it has a great soundtrack.
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