Review: A Hologram for the King

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DIR: Tom Tykwer • WRI: Tom Tykwer • PRO: Stefan Arndt, Gary Goetzman, Arcadiy Golubovich, Tim O’Hair, Uwe Schott • DOP: Frank Griebe • ED: Alexander Berner • MUS: Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer • DES: Uli Hanisch • CAST: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw, Tom Skerritt

Despite the title, holograms and kings are only tangential in this offbeat adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel, in which Tom Hanks falls down a rabbit hole called Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Hanks) is a washed-up, recently divorced salesman who travels to Saudi Arabia to pitch his holographic teleconferencing software to the King. Ferried to Government buildings in the midst of vast desert by his paranoid and verbose driver Yousef (Alexander Black), Alan encounters bewildering bureaucracy in his attempts to make his presentation. He and his team are housed in a large tent while routinely being stood up by the King and their Government contact. Alan becomes concerned with a lump on his back, which turns out to be both physical and metaphorical. Through this he meets local doctor Zahra Hakem, and romance ensues.

This is a markedly odd film, where it is unclear whether Alan’s frustration is caused by his surroundings or his own anxiety riddled mind. Email correspondence and flashbacks provide some backstory, but snippets of Alan’s dreams or nightmares of his past mistakes prove more interesting. Some geopolitical issues are implied but not explored; religion, oppression of women. In this narrative, such things are secondary in what is clearly aimed to be more of a feel-good story.

One of the more humorous moments of the film may imply a greater depth, however. When giving a fake name at the Danish Embassy gate, Alan plucks ‘Søren Kierkegaard’ out of the air, as if it would be the first Danish name to occur to any middle-aged American. But in this context it kind of fits. Alan and Zahra discuss their supposed ‘culture clash’ in the car on their first date. ‘We are separated by the thinnest of filaments’ Zahra remarks. Their finding meaning in eachother, in spite of religious or cultural differences, as well as Alan seeming almost a cog in a series of random events, may be a nod to the Danish existentialist.

The central narrative is nothing new, and the usual fish-out-of-water humour abounds. It has a certain amount of charm, mostly thanks to the cast, but ultimately A Hologram for the King is a little underwhelming. Keep an eye out for a strangely under-utilised Ben Whishaw as the hologram.

Cathy Butler

97 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

A Hologram for the King is released 20th May 2016

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