A Hologram for the King begins with the nightmare of businessman Alan Clay singing Talking Heads’ classic Once in a Lifetime to a chilling effect as he jets to Saudi Arabia to escape and — possibly, hopefully — eradicate the noted pain of said subject matter. Wife, lost in divorce. Life, in turmoil.
After he lands, tasked by his new Boston company with the big dream of selling an IT system that can teleconference by use of hologram to an elusive king of a mysterious country, nothing much happens. Except jet lag, oversleeping, missed shuttles, medical mishaps and eyebrow-raising business and personal encounters.
Thanks to the story written and directed by Tom Tykwer from the novel by Dave Eggers and the anchor performance by Tom Hanks, that’s enough.
This quirky 1-hour, 38-minute drama sailed by in a Saturday afternoon matinée in a sparsely filled small Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA. It so entertained my dear wife Karen and I, in fact, that the loud senior one row up’s exclamations of plot surprise to his wife brought to me chuckles instead of angst. Go figure.
I laughed out loud, too, at Hanks’ Gumby face every time he awoke and glanced at his clock to see it past 9, and then 10. Even funnier with a hangover from the illegal bottle of booze disguised as olive oil he obtained from the sympathetic work woman assigned to make his daily brush-offs at the King’s huge business city in the very early stages somehow more palatable.
Sidse Babett Knudsen is cool as the Nordic woman who also brings Alan to an embassy party and fails to get him as involved as she’d like. But she’s not the best support here. That’s split between the driver, an Americanized local played funny and personable by Alexander Black, and the doctor, played sultry and personal by Sarita Choudhury. Both win Alan’s trust and, eventually, more as he fights the good business battle and internal personal wars. (That Black is an American and Choudhury is an Indian playing Saudi characters, well, that’s mysterious, too, especially considering that the beautifully filmed project was shot in the sands and dust of Saudi Arabia and Morocco, not some Southwest U.S. state.)
The pace of the picture allows Alan’s mid-life troubles — through flashbacks to his bitter divorce, previous business albatross, unsympathetic father, wildly fantastic daughter he thinks he’s let down — to sink in as soul deep. It also allows his foreign discoveries and a whirlwind happy ending that appears to fall out of the sky to feel like somewhat of a surprise to those of us who did not read Eggers’ novel beforehand.
Hanks wakes Alan up, for sure. No Captain Phillips-sized adventure, no Bridge of Spies-like intrigue. Plenty of satisfaction.
Do you enjoy a slower film or need a big action blockbuster ever time? Do you get upset when different ethnic actors are used for roles set in foreign countries? What’s your favorite Tom Hanks film? And why, of course.