What It’s About
Cultures collide and crossroads fork in “A Hologram for the King,” an amusing and interesting rumination on starting over in middle age.
Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is an American businessman who has gone through some setbacks, both personal and professional, and seeks redemption.
Representing an American tech company, he travels to Saudi Arabia to land an IT contract with its king, whose dream is to build a modern business-cultural city in the desert. The vastly ambitious project is catnip to competing global companies.
Based on Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel, the film adaptation written and directed by Tom Tykwer (“Cloud Atlas,” “Run Lola Run”) is a thing of beauty —- visually striking, populated by quirky characters and full of uncommon, rich storytelling so rare in cinema today.
This very relatable journey meanders, and we never quite know where it’s headed, which is a good thing. Scenes that seem purely random wind up resonating and tying together later — like life.
One recurrent aspect is paths — we see endless stretches of roads going nowhere just yet. And the film emphasizes how a fresh outlook, no matter how “last chance” it may be, can be a turning point in life.
With Tom Hanks leading the way, we reaffirm the satisfaction of Plan B working out just fine, but in unexpected ways. Like life.
For years I have maintained that Hanks (“Bridge of Spies”) makes every movie better (although he couldn’t save “Larry Crowne”). We identify with him, no matter what turmoil he faces. We always hope decency prevails when he’s part of the fabric.
As Alan Clay, a guy in a midlife funk who desperately needs a fresh start, Hanks has us rooting for him early. He makes us feel the stumbles on the rocky road he has embarked on — because we have all been there before, no matter what locale.
As he acclimates himself to an exotic, very different world, we understand the off-kilter feelings and hesitations, too.
It’s enjoyable to see his relationships with Yousef (Alexander Black), the colorful cab driver, and Zahra (Sharita Choudbury), a beautiful doctor, blossom. Black and Choudbury are solid in support.
The familiar theme of stranger in a strange land is identifiable, but the movie doesn’t feel same-old, same-old at all. It’s fresh, fun and fascinating.
And starting off with the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” perfectly embodies what’s ahead.
The crisp technical elements — cinematography, musical score, production design and visual effects — enhance the film’s overall experience.
What Doesn’t Work
Those who want a typical progression won’t find it here.
But the pleasures of the road less traveled are here for us to enjoy, with ever-reliable Hanks leading the way.
“A Hologram for the King”
- Director: Tom Tykwer
- Cast: Tom Hanks, Sharita Choudhury, Alexander Black, Tom Skerritt, Ben Whishaw
- Rated R(for some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)
- 97 minutes