Tom Hanks has to be one of the most likable actors working today. Like James Stewart before him, he has that rare combination of Hollywood charisma and an ‘everyman’ relatability which often leads to him being the best thing about any film that he’s in. This can be said of A Hologram for the King, an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel which, Hanks aside, struggles to really take off.
Things start off with a bang, quite literally, in a scene that sees Hanks’ midlife businessman, Alan Clay, yell the lyrics to ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads as his house and wife explode into purple puffs of smoke. It’s a dream sequence that is full of energy and colour, and which is never topped throughout the rest of the film.
Set in Saudi Arabia, it sees Clay attempting to sell a new holographic communications system to the King. Estranged from his wife, he seeks redemption in trying to close the deal of his lifetime, but things aren’t made simple when the King is nowhere to be seen and Clay develops some kind of lump on his back – something which he sees as the source of all his problems.
The film’s depiction of Saudi Arabia is arresting. It’s a place where its beautiful buildings are topped only by its lush, desert scenery. The visuals and central performance(s) – Hanks is supported by an almost-scene stealing Alexander Black and the wonderful Sarita Choudhury – are about just enough to hold your attention for its duration. However, that’s essentially where the good ends.
A slow-but-sure relationship is developed between Clay and his doctor, Zahra, which, despite easily being the most interesting plot thread of the story, is never focused on as much as I would have liked. There are some chucklesome moments – most of which are in the trailer – and attempts are made at a life-affirming message. In spite of its efforts, however, it’s neither funny enough or uplifting enough to leave any kind of lasting impact on you.
There’s nothing necessarily bad about A Hologram for the King, but then there’s nothing necessarily good about it either. I didn’t find it offensive or painful to watch in the slightest, but I’d be lying if I said it held my interest for its entirety. Go see it for another great Tom Hanks performance, but don’t expect much else.
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