Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tom Tykwer
Stars: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choubury, Ben Whishaw, Tom Skerritt, Sidse Basbbett Knudsen.
A Hologram For The King is one of Tom Hanks’ less commercial films. The film is based on the novel written by Dave Eggers, and Hanks was a big fan of the book which explains his involvement in this endeavour, which is somewhat unusual territory for the actor.
A Hologram For The King is essentially another fish out of water tale exploring themes of the clash of cultures. Hanks plays Alan Clay, a failed businessman who is in the middle of a midlife crisis following an acrimonious divorce and the collapse of his business. The down on his luck salesman is sent to Saudi Arabia representing a technology company to make a presentation to the King to secure a lucrative contract to provide virtual reality conferencing facilities to the kingdom. His IT team spend a lot of time in a sweltering tent with no internet access while it prepares for its presentation. No-one is sure when, or if, the King will arrive for the presentation.
The film opens with Hanks breaking the fourth wall and quickly giving us Clay’s backstory via the opening lines of the Talking Heads hit Once In A Lifetime. There are lots of brief flashbacks to his less than happy life and personal problems which seem to be symbolised by the ugly lump growing on his back. As Clay discovers things happen at their own pace in Saudi Arabia and he finds himself stranded in the desert while his life begins to fall apart. There are plenty of awkward moments for Clay as he tries to deal tactfully with the Saudis.
This is a journey of discovery for Clay who gains some insights into Arab culture through his driver, the gregarious Yousef (Alexander Black, providing plenty of comic relief). There is also a romantic subplot as Clay begins a relationship with a no-nonsense female doctor Zohra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury, from Homeland, etc), a rarity in this part of the world. Sidse Babett Knudsen is also memorable in a small role as a Danish diplomat who is helpful in introducing Clay to some important figures in Saudi Arabia, but is also extremely aggressive in her pursuit of Clay.
The film reunites Hanks with one of his Cloud Atlas directors in Tom Tykwer, and while this is less impenetrable than that massively overblown sci-fi fantasy, A Hologram For The King will struggle to connect with a mainstream audience. Tykwer is best known for the energetic and kinetically paced Run Lola Run; the pacing here is much more leisurely and his direction is laid back.
Hanks’ hassled everyman quality lends strength and credibility to his work here, and his inherent likeability helps hold our interest. Black provides plenty of comedy relief as Clay’s jittery and paranoid driver. Tom Skerritt is wasted in a small role as Clay’s disapproving father, and, despite prominent billing in the credits, Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Spectre, etc) appears only as a hologram.
There are some striking and often surreal visuals though from Tykwer’s regular cinematographer Frank Griebe, including the surreal image of a science park still under construction in the middle of the desert and the impressive architecture of Saudi Arabia.