I will nearly always be up for a new Tom Hanks film (unless it’s Cloud Atlas – shudder). I don’t even hate ‘The Da Vinci Code’ as much as most people, that’s how much I like Tom Hanks. I liked the trailer for ‘A Hologram for the King’ and my interest was also piqued by the author, Dave Eggers. Although I haven’t read this particular book, I have read some of his others and followed his work with McSweeney’s. So, if my hopes were not exactly high, I was at least intrigued.
‘A Hologram for the King’ is the latest in a series of recession-set films, and I am glad that the film world is starting to address the post-2008 climate (99 Homes is a recent excellent example). Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) has had to make lay-offs at his company and moved the business to China. He is now a struggling IT worker, desperate to impress his boss and his Dad (Tom Skerritt). So, he sets off to Saudi Arabia, hoping to wow the King with a new IT system that takes the idea of video conferencing one step further by using hologram projection. Clay – struggling with jet-lag, anxiety and hypochondria – quickly realises that the “city” is not at the advanced stages he might have expected. He befriends his driver (Alexander Black), who believes a love rival is trying to kill him. Along his way, Clay befriends his driver, meets a sexy Danish woman and has an unbelievable encounter with her at a sort of erotic rave (yes, I’m still talking about the 60 year old Hanks here), before finally meeting and falling for his doctor – a beautiful Arabian played by Sarita Choudhury.
There are elements of this film that are dubious and uncomfortable. There is a ridiculous scene that involves Clay and his driver Yousef accidentally driving into Mecca with a non-Muslim (Clay) in the car. Yousef asks Clay not to look at the Sacred Mosque directly. I felt, as an audience member, I should also be averting my eyes. Even if it was not the real location, it was depicting something sacred and I felt awkward about the whole sequence. Also Clay’s relationship with Zahra (Choudhury) seems unbelievable – she is risking everything in meeting with him alone and going on a date with him.
There were enjoyable elements in the film – I liked the soundtrack a lot. There were also some interesting moments of editing and some great fantasy elements, which I wish they had taken further. Hanks, as always, is a joy to watch. He is a gifted physical comedian – the scenes where he was alone in his hotel room were perhaps the best. The film is funny, but I didn’t laugh out loud at any point. The desert location where the “city” is being constructed was interesting and one of the more believable elements.
Ben Wishaw appears in a thankless and bizarre cameo, basically as his Q character from the Bond series. One can only imagine what he was paid for this gig, because he was completely wasted. Although I felt I spent a pleasant evening in the company of ‘A Hologram for the King’, there were definitely elements that left a sour taste in my mouth. It is disappointing, especially with the pedigree of the writer, that something better was not created on screen. I fear that this cinema experience is going to prove forgettable, as the film was ultimately paper-thin and liable to fly away on a desert wind.
Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw