A Hologram for the King is the latest film to feature the talents of Tom Hanks and is written and directed by Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas (2012)). It is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Dave Eggers that was published in 2012. Hanks is salesman Alan Clay who is travelling out to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to promote a holographic communications system to the King. He’s got the job off the back of his ties to the King’s nephew but it turns out he only met him once many years ago at a party. While out in Saudi Arabia an encounter with a doctor sets up a cross cultural romance.
A Hologram for a King tries to cover a lot of ground featuring a culture clash romance, divorce, family dynamics, crisis in confidence, geopolitics, commentary on life in Saudi Arabia etc etc. I suspect that the book had hundreds of pages to play with wheras this movie has a little over 90 minutes to do the same job. The result is that it is tonally all over the place. One minute it wants to be a quirky comedy, the next its an investigative piece into the lives of migrant workers and oops now were a classic romantic comedy. It’s an odd thing to watch and it doesn’t work. It’s not that I disliked it, I mean Tom Hanks is in it so it’s not going to be terrible, but it started to drag and I couldn’t get comfortable and sink into the story.
There are things to like such as Clay’s relationship with his driver Yousef (Alexander Black) and their comic interplay which also introduces us to elements of Saudi culture however superficial. There is also Clay’s budding relationship with the doctor called Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) which is one of the few examples of mid-life romance that we see on the big screen. In these two elements I think there is a successful film i.e. a classic romantic comedy. Not necessarily an original concept but it would at least have been entertaining. Trying to mash this with the more serious commentary on life in the Kingdom and modern economics was a step too far.
So Tom Hanks does what Tom Hanks does and tries his best to hold this wandering mess together. Not a big surprise it came and went so quickly in the cinema as it doesn’t have a clear audience to market to. Hurts me to do this but my rating is an underwhelming 2/5.