MOVIE REVIEW: A Hologram for the King (2016)

“A Hologram for the King” Review
Written and Directed by Tom Tykwer
Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dave Eggers.

Uniting Hanks and Tykwer once again four years after Cloud AtlasA Hologram for the King comes forth as another attempt at interpreting into film a book brimming with existentialism. The film lack depth and gravitas, but Hanks’ acting and narration (not to mention his natural charm) throughout the film makes up for it. And that, most definitely, is a good thing.

A Hologram for the King takes us into the life of Alan Clay (Tom Hanks), an ageing businessman trying to salvage his career and reputation by trying to sell an advanced holographic teleconferencing technology to the king of Saudi. He spends his days haunted by his past failures as an executive and board member of the now defunct Schwinn Bicycle Company, and unceasingly plagued by the shadow of a divorce and a daughter he can’t even put through college.

Trouble ensues when he arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and finds failure and utter disappointment from the very beginning. The Saudi monarch he was supposed to present to doesn’t seem to have any plans of manifesting, and the people he employs doesn’t seem to empathize with his plight either.

With nothing but an outdoor tent that doesn’t have air conditioning (while being in the middle of the desert), no Wi-Fi (Que horror!), and no readily available food, he decides to take a risk and seek out the decision makers that can make him get his plans into fruition.

Greeting him (after escaping into the elevator while the receptionist is away) at King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade is Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a Danish associate working in payroll. After giving him a bottle of smuggled liquor (disguised as olive oil) and seducing him into making a mistake, Alan realizes an intense lack of libido and drive he never expected to have.

With middle age and sudden solitude troubling him, Alan finds himself blaming all his lack of energy to a large growth on his back, precariously located on top of his spine.

Alan finds a semblance of friendship in  his driver Yousef (Alexander Black), a young Arab man obsessed with American 80’s music. Worrying about the bump on his back, Yousef persuades him to have it looked at.

He finds himself treated by Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a female Saudi doctor. For reasons unknown, the two find themselves making an immediate connection, and as hard as they may try, it can not be ignored and set aside.

Tom Tykwer’s attempt to channel the book’s depiction of a lost and exhausted soul leaves audiences wanting. Alan’s narration of his past, and his musings of current events and possible prospects bring a sort of lift to the otherwise languid flow of the story. It only picked up towards the end, but still left a few things quite uncertain.

Newcomer Alexander Black delivers a few sniggers with his character Yousef’s sharp jibes and blatant hypocrisy. As per usual, it’s quite interesting how he (a Caucasian) was cast as a young Saudi man. Makeup might make him look racially and ethnically ambiguous enough to pass as a Saudi man, but this might still bring up concerns about Hollywood whitewashing everything. And quite frankly, it is a serious issue.

Sarita Choudhury, on the other hand, seems a more fitting casting choice to her character compared to Black. Even with her English-Indian heritage, it’s definitely better to see an Asian play an Asian on screen. But then again, that’s still an opinion challenged up to this day.

A Hologram for the King is distributed by OctoArts Films International, and now showing in cinemas.

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