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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 11, 2016

A Hologram For The King Movie Review: Fairly Amusing But Not As Impressive As The Other Films In Tom Hanks' Filmography

TOM HANKS’ filmography is full of memorable performances, from “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia” to “Cast Away” and “Terminal”. Last year, he did an expert job in “Bridge of Spies” but it was Mark Rylance as the spy he helped who won an Oscar. He now appears in “A Hologram for the King”, a small drama directed by Tom Tykwer (best known for “Run Lola Run”) based on David Eggers’ novel.

He plays Alan Clay, a businessman who has lost everything and is now trying to sell a hologram software technology to the king of Saudi Arabia who’s building a city in the middle of the desert. He encounters some bewildering obstacles that makes the movie come off as a surrealistic comedy. He also feels some guilt for not being able to support the college education of his only daughter, Kit (Tracey Fairway), who continues to side with him in his bitter conflict against his estranged wife.
Every morning, he goes to the king’s project’s headquarters, only to be told that the king is not coming and they don’t really know when he’ll show up. As such, Tom also doesn’t know when he will be given the chance to present his business proposal. Adding to his problems is the fact that his technical team is housed in a tent that has no air conditioner, no wi-fi, no food. And to make things worse, a big bump or “bukol” suddenly grows on his back.

In his hotel room in Jeddah, Tom fights off his jetlag and always oversleeps so he wakes up late. He finds a useful driver and guide in Yousef (Alexander Black), who speaks good English and drives an old car, but is always scared that the husband of a woman he has an affair with might be planting explosives on his vehicle.

The daily stresses in Tom’s life seem endless, like in an existential farce. Everytime he looks for his contact named Karim Al Ahmad, he is told by a beautiful receptionist (Amira El Sayed) that Karim is not there but the information she provides seems so unreliable. He finally gets the courage to sneak inside the building and meets a Danish woman named Hanne (Sidse Knudsen) who gives him an illegal bottle of alcoholic drink and tries to make out with him while they’re in a party (but sorry, he can’t rise to the occasion.)

Depressed with what’s happening to him, Tom gets a knife and pokes the lump on his back, giving him an infection. He lands in the hospital and meets a female doctor, Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury of “Homeland”), and there’s instant attraction between them. The film strikes us a portrait of an aging man in crisis who doesn’t know what to do with his life and has difficulty coping with the demands of his work in a strange country. But the director also goes into other directions, like the trip Tom takes with Yousef where he’s smuggled through the city of Mecca (Makkah), where non-Muslims are not allowed, but it proves to be of no consequence except when he gets into conflict with a local over a joke he made that he works freelance for the CIA.

When Tom finally meets Karim Al Ahmad (Karid Laith), the man takes him to a complex of buildings in the desert then suddenly leaves him there where he sees dirty and dishevelled men housed in a building under construction, some of them even engaged in fighting. Who and what these are, we never get to discover. But Karim grants Tom’s requests for his technical people, he finally gets to meet the king and make his presentation, and he finds the new romance that gives him the much needed boost in his life.

Tom is totally convincing in his role as an every man we can empathize with, from the opening scene where he sings the Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime” while snippets of his past life is shown as a clever introduction to the new journey of discovery he’s about to embark on. He can also make us laugh (like when his chair breaks, not just once but three times), but the film is rushed towards the ending. Tom doesn’t achieve his main goal in going to Saudi, but he gets something else: a new life and a new chance on love that triumphs in the end.
The film is quite meaningful when it focuses on Tom’s isolation and his interaction with Yousef and Dr. Zahra, both played by very competent actors. It offers beautiful visuals of endless desert (shot in Morocco), the sacred city of Mecca, the king’s envisioned new city of skyscrapers and there’s a very gorgeous sequence showing Tom and Zahra swimming underwater. Tom Hanks has worked with Tom Tykwer before in “Cloud Atlas” which was a big commercial and critical flop, but obviously, he loved working with Tykwer enough to do another movie with him which can be considered as just so-so compared to the impressive films he has done before.