Tom Tykwer’s (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas) adaptation of Dave Eggers’ 2012 best-selling novel may not make for the most exuberant or compelling fish-outta-water dramedy, but the reliably entertaining Tom Hanks elevates it to solidly watchable territory with his effortlessly charming every-man performance.
Alan Clay (Hanks) is a washed-up American salesman who heads to Saudi Arabia in order to pitch some swanky holographic teleconferencing software to the King there. Keen to secure a job that will pay for his daughter’s college tuition all while examining the breakdown of his marriage, Alan reflects on what he wants out of life, and what might (or might not) be waiting for him back in the U.S.
This an utterly unambitious film narrative-speaking, dawdling along at an unfussed pace and firing out the broad culture clash cliches while somewhat patronisingly reminding viewers that, yes, some brown people in the desert like Elvis and Chicago too! Thankfully the film entrenches us with Hanks in basically every scene, and his more pared-down, droll demeamour takes center stage rather than the more cartoonish supporting players.
Though it’s somewhat slight as a character study, the pic grows as the seriousness seeps in and the silly comedy recedes, with Alan’s bond with his kindly doctor (Sarita Choudhury) proving particularly believable and affecting. Throw in some marvelous cinematography from Frank Griebe and Tykwer’s strangely surreal direction (which works more than it doesn’t), and you have a solid travelogue film that neither plays too broad nor too contemplative; it’s a middle-of-the-road film you’ll probably watch once on a rainy Sunday and forget you saw a few weeks later.
As far as these films go, though, it’s a decent effort, even if the lion’s share of the praise goes almost entirely to Hanks, who continues to take unexpected work in arguably the most daring period of his career so far.
A Hologram for the King is in cinemas now