This is the opening to the latest film by Tom Tykwer’s – last seen co-directing the underrated epic Cloud Atlas with the Wachowskis – an adaptation of Dave Eggers' best-selling 2012 novel A Hologram for the King.
Set in the post-recession, pre-Arab spring historical hinge point of 2010, Hanks plays Alan Clay, a down on his luck American salesman sent to Saudi Arabia to flog a state-of-the-art teleconferencing system to the King.
Daily, he travels to the proposed desert location for the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade – an as yet undeveloped corner of barren desert where silent workers sweep sand off the road – only to find the King is perpetually absent and the staff uncooperative.
From here unfolds an absurdist Groundhog Day-esque comedy drama, with Clay seemingly caught in a repetitious loop of unfulfilled days in an unfamiliar land. While at first the humour comes in fairly broad brush strokes, mostly at the hands of Clay’s irrepressible personal taxi driver Yousef (Alexander Black), as the film progresses, the many recurrent gags take on an altogether more refined and funnier shape.
The film does little to subvert the tired tropes of the male midlife crisis genre: an acrimonious divorce, check; distant daughter, check; troubled relationship with father, check; complicated love interest and content comic relief that serve the needs of the protagonist, check and check. Yet something elevates it above the many lesser films that occupy this well-trodden territory.
This can be partly attributed to Hanks, who switches on his ever-reliable everyman charm in another warm and winning performance; but the Germanic influence of Tykwer also plays its part. This is the third literary adaptation helmed by the director, and although deeper themes of recession and globalisation take a backseat to Clay’s existential crisis, there are genuine, if sporadic, moments of real heart and profundity.
The portrayal of the female and Middle Eastern characters must also be commended. Sarita Choudhury as the Saudi doctor Zahra is complex and believable, and whilst the culture clash is milked for laughs, it never seems to be at anyone’s expense.
Though sparsely plotted, the strength of its cast and a distinct lack of cynicism help make A Hologram for the King an engaging and heart-warming watch.
|What||A Hologram for the King film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
20 May 16 – 01 Jul 16, Event times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's IMDB page|