A Hologram For The King Review
The soon-to-be 60 year-old Tom Hanks may just be the most reliable and watchable film star of the last three decades - not necessarily the most commercially successful but someone who can get a film made and can make it enjoyable. Hologram for the King would not exist without him.
We could assume that the idea for this film was born out of the collaboration between Tom Hanks and Tom Tykwer on the wonderful and underrated Cloud Atlas (witness also the brief holographic appearance of Ben Whishaw, another CA stalwart). Quite why the two Toms decided that Dave Eggers's novel was in need of a screen adaptation is a question I am unable to answer. It is far from a commercial proposition, and, one can suppose, never have made it past the pitch without the Hanks name. Even with the Oscar-winning star attached, the opening credits reveal a multitude of production/finance companies, suggesting that money was hard to come by.
Hanks plays Alan Clay, a man who - as a witty opening sequence reveals - has lost everything; wife, home, job, self-respect. He's flying to Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic IT system to the King. Except the monarch isn't there, nor is much of anything aside from a team of three, in a tent with no wi-fi and no air conditioning. Clay is surrounded by apparent courtesy but no one is available to talk to. He's under pressure from a boss back home, he has a persistent conscience, worries about his past, and has discovered a lump on his back. Worse still, he keeps oversleeping and missing the shuttle bus, which means he has to be driven by Yousef (Alexander Black) who has dubious taste in cars and music.
The film has much to recommend aside from its leading man. The sense of place in the desolately wealthy kingdom of Saudi Arabia is convincing. There is humour, romance and an absence of fake melodrama that is a relief. However, there are a couple of awkward elements, not least the role of women. Sidse Babett Knudsen (of Borgen fame) deserves so much better than Hanne, the Danish woman who makes a pass at Alan only to be humiliatingly rebuffed. While the woman Clay does fall for, Zahra, is played by Sarita Choudhury (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) is not only 11 years younger than Hanks but of Indian/English extraction - not Arabic. And while we're pointing out racial inaccuracies, I'm at a loss to understand why they would cast American Black to play Yousef...
Perhaps, I’m being picky, it is, after all, Hanks’ film. With his furrowed brow of doubt, the familiarly ordinary face that we appear to know so well but never seem to grow tired of. That’s the (unconventional) beauty of the cinematic everyman. No other star of his magnitude has quite the quality or the average Joe charm that means we, the audience, are willing to accompany him wherever he goes. Even into the desert, to sell a hologram for a King.