Mark Reviews Movies

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tom Tykwer

Cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Tracey Fairaway, Khalid Laith, Jane Perry, Tom Skerritt, David Menkin, Christy Meyer, Megan Maczko

MPAA Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 4/22/16


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 22, 2016

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks, dependable as always) arrives in Saudi Arabia as a failure and a fraud. Worse, he is convinced that everyone sees him as a failure and a fraud. It's one thing to think poorly of yourself, but to have everyone else confirm those suspicions is an altogether depressing thing. As A Hologram for the King opens, Alan is dreaming a music-video dream, speak-singing along to a Talking Heads song as his "large automobile," his "beautiful house," and his "beautiful wife" disappear in puffs of purple smoke. Indeed, he asks, "How did I get here?"

The movie, based on Dave Eggers' novel of the same name, doesn't particularly care about that, and that's fine. What do we really need to know?

What we learn is that he is a salesman for a technology company. He once sold a bicycle company to China and watched with regret as the unique, American icon became just another mass-produced item that was no different than other bike, because the various companies that sold them used the same model. His father (Tom Skerritt) openly despises what his son did and is trying to do now, because it points to a new, globalized world market of and about which his old man is scared and angry.

Alan is divorced. His daughter (Tracey Fairaway) loves him, but she has had to put her college career on hold because Alan can't afford the tuition at the moment. She's a waitress. She's happy, but her father warns her not to let it become a thing. Alan knows, because he, apparently, has let his job become a thing.

This is all we really need to know about Alan. Also, it needs to be said that he has a sizeable lump on his back.

All of this is on his mind, and he's in Saudi Arabia on his last chance for professional and, possibly, personal redemption. The king is planning a sprawling metropolis that will be home to a million and a half people, as well as a bustling hub of economic growth for the nation. Alan's company has developed a revolutionary (and expensive) communication tool that incorporates holographic images. Alan is the liaison who will present the technology to the king. He's only there because he once met the king's nephew many years ago at a gala. He shook the prince's hand and told him a corny joke while they happened to be in the bathroom together.

Alan knows he shouldn't be here. He knows that he doesn't have the stomach to make big decisions anymore. He doesn't know the lay of the land, and he knows he's going to have to call Yousef (Alexander Black), an on-call taxi driver, to get him to the king's now-barren metropolis because he overslept. When he gets there, Alan doesn't know how to get the team in charge of demonstrating the tech the resources they need, and he definitely can't answer the team and his boss' most pressing question: When is the king arriving?

Above all else, he knows that everyone else knows all of this about him, too. That growth on his back isn't helping any, either.

If there are problems, there must be solutions, and that's where the movie's focus is. Director Tom Tykwer's screenplay does such a commendable job in taking us into this man's mind, as he copes with his crisis of doubts upon doubts, that it's almost inevitable that the answers to all of his problems will come across as being overly simplistic. They do, even though they aren't exactly the kind of solutions we might expect.

Maybe that simplicity even works in the movie's favor. These are relatively subtle changes that Alan makes during the course of his stay. More than anything else, it's about attitude—about consciously deciding to alter his outlook. Whether it's sneaking past a receptionist to meet with someone higher up or overcoming his fear about what's on his back to see a doctor, Alan adapts. He stops asking how he got here and starts asking what he's going to do now that he is here. It helps that he learns he isn't the only fraud here.

Of course, meeting two independent women who find him attractive on some level is beneficial, too. One is Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a Danish ambassador working on the city-planning project, who invites Alan to a party at her country's embassy, and the other is Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a local doctor, who gives him hopeful news about the thing on his back. Zahra also serves as a way for the movie to comment on rigorously enforced religious customs of the country (Earlier, Yousef points out a mosque where public executions take place, and there's a trip through Mecca that, because of Alan's presence, is technically illegal). There's a sweet sequence, culminating in a beautiful snorkeling scene, in which the two try to bypass those laws in order to have something resembling a normal date.

What's strange—and what detracts from the movie's eventual conclusion—is that the way Tykwer exposes Alan's failings and uncertainties is far more effective and cohesive than the sometimes rambling path to his betterment. A Hologram for the King, then, is the story of a working shlub and corporate pawn who simply becomes less interesting as he escapes his routine.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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