Hanks a lost soul in Saudi Arabia
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.