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September 2016

A Hologram For The King

cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw, and Sidse Babett Knudsen

director: Tom Tykwer

98 minutes (12) 2016
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Icon blu-ray region B
[released 19 September]

RATING: 6/10
review by Steven Hampton

A Hologram For The King

As he proved (yet again) in Spielberg's unsurprisingly sentimental, but still eminently watchable, Cold War drama, Bridge Of Spies, Tom Hanks has long since become the all-purpose quiet hero of American cinema. From its dream-sequence start-up, that re-writes the intro for Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime (1980), A Hologram For The King is an offbeat comedy-drama, very much in the style of Coen brothers picture. The movie tackles a hurry-up-and-wait storyline as demoted salesman Alan (Hanks) visits a kingdom in Saudi Arabia, to present his company's demo of holographic technology for the monarch's use as over-ambitious teleconferencing suite.

Alan seems written like a failed middle-class liberal anybody, baffled but not offended by Arab culture's alien weirdness, with all its crazily patriarchal, obsessively religious, dogmatically repressive paranoia that - in the region's recent history - has resulted in distinctive detached realms of grossly obscene wealth and hellishly medieval poverty. Writer-director Tom Tykwer (adapting Dave Eggers' novel) explores disruptive hassle and professional anxiety in Alan's daily routine with grindingly farcical scenes where our American manager abroad faces the increasingly inconsequential nature of US influence, in new global structures of science and commerce under Chinese industrial dominance.

While the movie is not specifically pro-Muslim or anti-American, its notable lightness of touch is quite different to the scary changes in sociopolitical landscapes as depicted in Tykwer's crime thriller The International (2009). Its comedy is broad enough to be almost crowd-pleasing, and includes a stereotypical but funny cameo by Tom Skerritt as Alan's old crusty dad. What weakens the impact of its commentary upon the many troubling issues usually caused by middle-east politics/ culture/ religion all being the same thing, is that - following a romantic encounter with topless snorkeller Dr Hakim (Sarita Choudhury) - the storyline abandons any pretence at political relevance, dramatic resonance, or philosophical confrontation, and it lapses into a fairytale ending that is very disappointing although, of course, we are supposed to feel happy for the re-motivated Alan, who has found a new love and 'won' a fresh start in life.

Where the movie works, and does so quite splendidly, is the finale's clever depiction of hologram tech as a shiny new toy; promoted by an American corporation as if it offers a time-saving and world-changing system enabling international business for the 21st century, even though it's clearly and merely another gimmicky exercise in special effects. This delivers a savvy punch-line for that common joke that America is now a country with no future beyond trivial concerns.



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