Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
American businessman Alan (Hanks) is sent to Saudia Arabia on a business trip to seal a deal with the Kingdom’s King to purchase the technology his company offers. However, while there he has the time to think about the mistakes he has made, and with the help of embracing a completely different culture, is able to reanalyse his life.
No matter what the film, Tom Hanks is generally a very safe pair of hands and an infinitely watchable screen presence (adaptations of Dan Brown novels being the obvious exception), and as watchable as Hanks most certainly is in A Hologram for the King, even Hollywood’s ultimate nice guy cannot save it from the middle of the road mediocrity and its seen-it-all-before narrative.
At its heart A Hologram for the King features a tried and tested narrative of a middle aged man examining his life and ultimately having some kind of life-changing epiphany (not a spoiler), and there is of course nothing wrong with that is this is a story that has been done since storytelling existed. However, this film not only never seems to want to step away from the middle of the road, but its narrative is very episodic and sloppily put together.
German director Tom Tykwer is certainly a surprising choice to be at the helm of a film of this kind, but perhaps like so many actors and directors he is doing this for the money to fund a project he actually wants to do and feels passionate about in the future. His CV is certainly one of a director who demonstrates visual flair (if perhaps less care for narrative coherence), with the extremely bland The International being one he probably did solely for the money.
Well, A Hologram for the King does at times feel like a compromise between the director and the producers as at times we get some strange visuals or montages that certainly give the film an added edge when used, but their minimal use feels like they only hint at what could have been. A Hologram for the King is rated 12A and so we get the occasional swear word or bit of blood, as well as slightly more edgy depictions of the protagonist’s mind-set that push the limits of a 12A rating. However they feel slightly out of place in the rest of the 12A friendly middle of the road presentation of the narrative and suggest that this film is a compromise where those in charge demanded this film be a 12A. These few moments frustratingly suggest that perhaps if Tykwer were given full creative license he could have done so much more with the material he was given.
This is certainly both a shame and a waste as there is definitely potential here; Hanks gives a committed, energetic and charismatic performance as the protagonist, and this certainly elevates some of the lacklustre material, but what he is given to work with is ultimately a waste of his unique talent, as the few scenes where Tykwer is allowed to be creative suggest Hanks could have given a performance to match the director’s ultimate vision (whatever that actually was we will, alas, never know). Ultimately we are given are protagonist who is not that interesting.
It almost feels like an obvious thing to say for a film of this genre, but there is a superbly charismatic supporting performance from Alexander Black as a driver that Alan befriends, and the two of them share many of the film’s best and funniest scenes.
However despite some great individual scenes and a predictably charismatic turn from Hanks, A Hologram for the King is ultimately a disjointed mess of a film with an episodic narrative that doesn’t seem to know when to wrap things up and when to leave the middle of the road. What is most frustrating is the few moments that show the talents of Tom Tykwer and if he was granted full creative license, what film this could have actually been.
Despite the charismatic star wattage of Tom Hanks, A Hologram for the King is a generic genre piece with a dull, episodic and predictable narrative that is just about watchable, but no more. The actor/ director combo had potential, but there is certainly a feeling they were restricted in what they could do. What a waste.