Hanks a lost soul in Saudi Ara­bia

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

A HOLO­GRAM FOR THE KING Di­rected by Tom Tyk­wer. Star­ring Tom Hanks, Alexan­der Black, Sarita Choud­hury, Sidse Ba­bett Knud­sen, Tracey Fair­away, Jane Perry 15A cert, gen re­lease, 98 min Even if you didn’t know that this mildly di­vert­ing comic-drama was adapted from a novel by Dave Eg­gers you would still sus­pect that some un­friendly lit­er­ary source lurked in the back­ground. Tom Tyk­wer’s film has that oth­er­worldly feel that hangs over such pieces.

An­swers are of­fered to ques­tions you never re­mem­ber be­ing asked. The di­a­logue feels as if trans­lated from a very for­eign lan­guage. Oh well. We could do worse things with our time than watch Tom Hanks cope badly with the ec­cen­tric­i­ties of mod­ern Saudi Ara­bia.

Hanks plays Alan Clay, an IT sales­man sent to the kingdom to . . . well, if ever there were a ti­tle that is less metaphor­i­cal than it ini­tially sounds I’d like to hear it. His scheme re­ally is to set up a holo­gram-based com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem for the king. Ev­ery­where he goes he meets bu­reau­cratic in­transi-

Tom Hanks as sales­man Alan Clay: ev­ery­where he goes in Saudi Ara­bia he meets bu­reau­cratic in­tran­si­gence

gence and cul­tural dis­so­nance. He is con­stantly told that the rel­e­vant of­fi­cial will be here tomorrow, but that par­tic­u­lar tomorrow never comes. He meets a Dan­ish diplo­mat who brings him to a wild party at the em­bassy.

Holo­gram reads more like an un­com­fort­able adap­ta­tion of a trav­el­ogue than an un­com­fort­able adap­ta­tion of a novel (though Eg­gers’s ob­ses­sive anx­i­ety is wo­ven through the piece). Maybe that’s a good thing. The film def­i­nitely has in­ter­est­ing in­tel­li­gence for those of us who have never been to that af­flu­ent na­tion. And Hanks makes much of the op­por­tu­nity to look fool­ish be­fore for­eign­ers. Almost any other ac­tor would make a clas­sic ugly Amer­i­can out of Alan Clay. This cen­tury’s Jimmy Ste­wart seems like a de­cent man try­ing to do the least in­de­cent thing.

As a re­sult, not­with­stand­ing the weirdly hur­ried ro­man­tic end­ing, A Holo­gram for the King goes down nicer than it de­served to do. But let’s stop pro­duc­ing film ver­sions of books that fight back so stub­bornly.

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