My reaction to this film is somewhat muted in part, I admit, because the title, poster, and opening few minutes suggest something far trippier and more ambitious than what this really is: a mid-life crisis character portrait set in an alienating foreign country. Seriously, why bring holograms into the conversation if you’re not going to do anything with them other than vague thematic gestures.
A Hologram for the King is a wobbly mishmash, slicing and dicing the psyche of protagonist Alan Clay (Tom Hanks). He is in charge of a sales pitch of a revolutionary IT system to the king of Saudi Arabia, but everything is going wrong: For starters, the king doesn’t show up and gives no indication of when he will. None of the logistics are right, it’s blazing hot, and — worst of all — a scary lump is growing on his back. All of these troubles mirror his personal spiral back home: a messy divorce, a series of failures, etc.
It’s a fairly incoherent film, but grounded by two forces: the first being, of course, Tom Hanks’ expectedly excellent performance; the second being Tom Tykwer’s enthusiastic direction, which leans into every turn of the script that he and Dave Eggers (author of the source novel) penned. There’s a wolf-hunting trip for some reason, and a weirdly hardcore party at an embassy, both of which are pointless but enjoyably diverting.
That the movie’s genre salad — drama, buddy comedy, fish-out-of-water, travelogue, romcom — manages, only barely, to feel like a recognizable whole, is credit to Tykwer’s steady hand (not to mention the striking color palate). He infuses the film with a really unique flavor that captures the Saudi Arabian setting.
Even though the film is not a disaster, it sure is baffling, especially the hard pivot into romance in the last act. I kept waiting for it to turn a corner into something with a little more bite. But it stays a mess, albeit it zesty mess, throughout.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.