Movie Review: A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

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ahologramfortheking.jpgA HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING (UK/France/Germany USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Tom Tykwer

Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Tom Skerritt

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ever since RUN LOLA RUN and WINTER SLEEPERS German director Tom Tykwer has impressed audiences with the desperation of his characters. In his latest collaboration with Tom Hanks after the box-office disastrous CLOUD ATLAS, the desperate protagonist, Alan Clay (Hanks) is sent outside his comfort zone to a new place where he surprisingly finds purpose back into his life in the form of an unexpected romance.

If the plot sounds familiar, the recent animated ANOMALISA featured a distraught business executive (voiced by David Thewlis) in a hotel while attending a business conference and finding love and meaning in his life. Charlie Kaufman’s ANOMALISA has the novelty of the entire film voiced by only three actors as to the executive only two people matter, himself and his new romance and the rest of the world is therefore all one voice. Whilst ANOMALISA is restricted in its claustrophobic environment of the hotel, the same premise in HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING is taken wide out into the open, literally, to the huge desert expanse of Saudi Arabia.

Clay, an IT guy, is sent to close a deal with the King of Saudi Arabia for a huge computer system sale, which he hopes to close by means of an awesome presentation utilizing a hologram (which Brit actor Ben Winshaw appears in), thus the title of the film.

Tykwer’s film, based on the novel by Roger Eggers has lots more to play with than Anomalisa. Though both films contain the baggage of a failed marriage, HOLOGRAM includes a loving daughter who needs her college tuition paid.

An additional feature that adds to the interest of HOLOGRAM is the Kafka-ish feel to the film. The Kafka-ish elements include Clay trying to solve impossible problems. For one, he is supposed to have a presentation with the King who is never there. Every time he is told the King is going to be present, the date is changed. Clay also bears a huge boil on his back which he tries to cut open. And just as in Kafka-ish mode, he is told by his doctor, that he is unfortunately in good health when the boil is non-cancerous. Unfortunately, the audience is told because if it is not benign, Clay cannot blame the boil for all his fatigue, failure and lack of energy.

Tom Hanks plays Clay against type. He is no Captain Philips or class manipulator as in BRIDGE OF SPIES. Hanks for the first time plays an inefficient human being who strives and finally makes good. That is what makes the film works, it is a sad feel-good movie. And Hanks, as usual is pretty good. The rest of the cast are played by international actors. His love interest, the doctor Zahra is played by Indian actress (a regular in Deepa Metha films) Sarita Choudhury. This is not surprising as she bares her breasts in nude scenes, a big no-no if they got an actress from Saudi Arabia. As stated, Winshaw is British and Clay also has a fling with a Danish worker/associate, played by Danish actress Hana Sidse Babett Knudsen (DUKE OF BURGUNDY).

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING works because of its quirkiness. Tykwer takes his audience for a good roller-coaster ride, like the one at the start of the film with Clay in it singing the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”. The film shows that the American Dream is not something taken for granted, but one that though achievable needs to be earned as Clay discovers.

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