Hot Take: Good characters. Boring movie. Unearned romance.
It’s hard to put into words the experience of watching A Hologram for the King. Some might say Tom Hanks is brilliant because, well, they always say he’s brilliant. He’s that everyman character he usually plays but he is out of place in Saudi Arabia, drinking illegal booze and even having sexual encounters. But that’s the Tom Hanks everyman in wolf’s clothing, all right. It’s a stranger in a strange land tale. Nowhere near the success Lost in Translation was. Nowhere near the disaster of Rock the Kasbah. Actually, the best comparison might be Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, if the lead were male and there was no war.
A Hologram for the King tries to accomplish a lot thematically. There are so many subplots in the film but none of them carry much weight to really earn your investment. Hanks plays Alan Clay, a salesman on a business trip to Saudi Arabia to sell the King on a new communication technology. Overall, this plot gets very little attention. Instead, the movie is also a buddy comedy as Hanks’ Clay befriends Yousef (Alexander Black) who he meets when he overslept on his first day in Saudi Arabia and needs a ride to visit his potential client. There’s a glance at Clay’s relationship with his daughter through letters and a few flashbacks. There’s Clay and his coping with being isolated in a foreign country while growing concerned with a lump on his back. Let’s not forget about the Danish woman (Sidse Babett Knudsen) he meets who is obviously interested in him. Oh, and that female doctor (Sarita Choudhury), Alan is obviously smitten with without much explanation as to why. Wait, did I mention that Hanks’ character was there to sell a technology to the Saudis? Oh, I did?
You’d think with all of these subplots and a meager 97 minute run time, the movie would fly by. Unfortunately, the story meanders on it’s way to an unearned but predictable conclusion. There is nothing particularly wrong with the film as it’s well acted and visually adequate but there is a total lack of excitement as Hanks wears the same expression on his face for most of the 97 minute affair.
The most troubling part of the film has to be the budding romance between Clay and Zahra, the doctor he meets while having the lump on his back examined. In an effort to avoid spoilers, the way the love story between the two evolves isn’t really difficult to buy into but it doesn’t make for a great story.
A Hologram for the King is a mediocre effort backed by a typical Hanks performance. He does the everyman well but there really is nothing groundbreaking here. It’s a middle-aged white guy in Saudi Arabia lost in a mid-life crisis, looking to find his way. Don’t expect to care.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Power of Hanks is a Curious Thing
While watching Hanks in A Hologram for the King, it was hard to differentiate his performance here from some of his others. Usually, that’s a problem and it should be. However, there’s something about Hanks that makes his performance feel new and fresh even though we’ve seen him in this type of role before.
- The Buddy Comedy
Although it’s another case of whitewashing, Black’s Yousef is very funny alongside Hanks’ Clay. The newcomer gives the film some much needed comic relief and it’s disappointing to see their time together on-screen dissipate into nothing in the third act.
- The Desert Visuals
The vast desert landscape is visually appealing and the scenes that take place where the new city is being constructed in the middle of the desert provide eye-pleasing visuals.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Romance
Hanks’ salesman and Choudhury’s doctor falling for each other doesn’t feel genuine. Early in the film when it is hinted at and shrugged off by Clay, it is posed as a great risk for Zahra to entertain such a thought in her country. Nothing ever happens to sell you on the idea that a relationship with Clay is worth taking such a risk.
- Too Many Loose Ends
Have you ever owned a pair of shoes that just won’t stay tied to the point where when they come untied you don’t even bother anymore? Then, you spend the rest of the day politely thanking people who remind you that your shoe is untied? A Hologram for the King feels a lot like that.