23-29 September 2016 #827

A hologram for the king

Tom Twyker has somehow managed to make a meandering, often boring, cliché of a film
Sophia Pande

These days, with great television shows, Netflix and other streaming options, and a faster transfer from screen to DVD, it really doesn’t pay to make a mediocre film. Tom Twyker, a German film-maker who is known for experimenting with the traditional film form, has somehow managed to make a meandering, often boring, cliché of a film with his adaptation of A Hologram for the King, originally a novel by Dave Eggers from 2012.

Starring the likeable, easy to adore Tom Hanks, who has excelled at playing the everyman, the film follows Alan Clay (Hanks) a once successful middle-aged salesman who finds himself on a business trip to Saudi Arabia, sent on a hapless mission to try and sell a new 3D communications technology to the Saudi government via a face-to-face with the King, a meeting that never seems to materialise.

This is a story of a man who is lost, finding himself in an utterly foreign country. Unfortunately, what could have been an uplifting fable, like 2011’s excellent, hilarious, heart-warming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, also adapted from a novel, falls totally flat due to the utterly banal predicaments that Alan faces, along with a script, adapted by Twyker, that seems to have been written by an amateur with no idea of drama, dialogue, and dénouement – an astonishing lapse from the man who made the tightly wound, riveting Run Lola Run (1998) and has since toyed, fascinatingly, with sci-fi in semi-successful but nonetheless mind-expanding experiments like Cloud Atlas (2012), and the Netflix series Sense8 (2015).

Twyker’s mistake seems to have been in trying to adapt a story for which he has no real affinity, resulting in a lack-lustre character (he really doesn’t shine) that even Tom Hanks cannot bring to life. Alan Clay gets to Saudi Arabia, gets drunk, constantly oversleeps in his cookie-cutter hotel room, meets and befriends a Saudi man who is more American than him, and, please do not think I am giving this away, falls in love with a gorgeous Saudi doctor played by Sarita Choudhury, the only light in this dull film.

If you think that A Hologram for the King will give you an insight into Saudi Arabia, don’t. This is self-indulgent nonsense that seems to have been forced upon Tom Twyker’s usually kooky sensibilities, making for so much dissonance in the film that every character seems almost tone deaf. I winced many times through the film, but continued, hoping for Twyker’s usual magical sleight of hand, which never materialised. Tom Hank’s miserable mien in the film is one of the most depressing things I’ve seen in cinema in a while, making me question how a filmmaker like Twyker could have drifted so far from his usual, delightful experiments.

Watch trailer: