A Hologram for the King Review

A Hologram for the King

Tom Tykwer’s latest offering as a director and writer is an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel of the same name, A Hologram for the King.

The film might appear in some eyes as a carefully crafted gem with subtle symbolism, moral messages and socio-political subtext woven skilfully throughout.

On the other hand, it could be a complete mess.

Hey, I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

Tom Hanks takes the lead role as Alan Clay, a washed-up businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia to sell an IT system which will service a proposed residential and leisure development.

The opening sequence, which is by far one of the most intriguing I have seen in a while, involves Hank’s rendition of Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime, neatly synopsising Clay’s backstory. The guy lost his wife, home and job through the recession and is now, understandably, somewhat adrift.

The stakes are high, both personally and professionally, to win this new contract.

Along the way, Clay is aided by a number of characters, including comic-relief driver Yousef (Alexander Black) and potential love interests in the form of Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Zahra (Sarita Choudhury).

Following the high note of the opening credits, the film descends into an initial succession of fish-out-of-water jokes. Unobtainable alcohol, bomb threats and an inherent fear of the CIA all feature. These attempted funnies then awkwardly rub shoulders with mid-life melodrama and deep ponderings.

Now, I like Tykwer’s work, particularly his co-direction of the notoriously-unadaptable adaptation of Cloud Atlas. Heck I even liked his score for that movie.

But something has gone amiss here.

I will caveat any subsequent critique by saying that any subtle messages, be they in films or songs, centring on global commerce or international relations tend to vault over my head at the best of times. But even taking this story on face values, it is unclear what journey Alan is actually on here. And whether the story is a light-hearted one or not.

The story shifts from being about the IT contract to a serio-comic travelogue to concerns around Alan’s physical health to father-daughter bonding to love story. The film fails to successfully juggle all these strands.

And the holographic IT system which Alan is peddling: I mean, what’s that all about?

Tom Hanks injects Alan with some trademark charisma but struggles to carry the whole film on his own.

Some support is there but arguably not enough.

Assuming you can reconcile yourself with the non-Arab casting choices, New Yorker Black is fun in his role, and Brit Choudhury lends depth to her kindly doctor, though both appear to be starring in completely different films.

Odd cameos are provided by Ben Wishaw and Tom Skerritt and, one could argue, Knudsen, who appears all too briefly.

The film ends up being reminiscent of the titular hologram: a fainter image of what you would actually like to see, lacking focus and not quite all there.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

May 2016