Visually stunning, but a very slow and dull film.
A Hologram for the King seems very high budget for such a bland and uneventful film. It feels like when I watched Eat Love Pray – nothing actually happened. The film is basically Alan (Tom Hanks) having some first world problems, a midlife crisis and not knowing how Saudi Arabian culture works. He then starts anew. That’s everything. Roll credits!
He’s just gone through a divorce, is under pressure to pay for his daughter’s college tuition, and is on a business trip to sell a 3D holographic meeting system to a king who only shows up right at the end. He and his team get increasingly frustrated as they live in a model city in the desert, he wakes up late most mornings and is driven by Yousef (Alexander Black) to work (maybe a taxi driver, maybe a hirable driver, who knows), and he eventually falls in love with a doctor called Zahra Haken (Sarita Choudhury) when he falls into her care after attacking a lump on his back. Oh, metaphors. There’s also a Danish woman called Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen) who takes him to a Danish embassy party, and doesn’t really do much else.
I was tempted to turn it off halfway through and go back to good Tom Hanks films – like The Terminal (this film actually drove me into his filmography to find more good Hanks films). In A Hologram for the King he’s an IT salesman. I don’t think even Hanks can make that interesting. And he was unable to sit on a chair without falling or breaking it which was never explained and I really need an answer to that part.
There was one incredibly interesting part where Yousef explained to Alan (who was staring at a huge box of rifles) that they were going out at night with some other men to shoot a wolf that was killing sheep. He mentioned wanting to join the army and asked Alan if he started a demonstration, would he support him, that he couldn’t leave Saudi Arabia and had to stay. It made it sound like he was planning some kind of revolution, that they were there to train and the wolf was a ruse, that he didn’t want to leave but wanted to make things better. But knowing that film, they probably were just there to kill a wolf. They didn’t kill the wolf.
My favourite parts were Yousef the taxi driver and right at the end when it kept glitching and the doctor looked like she was a glitchy hologram – that would have been the best plot twist and saved the film. Alas, she wasn’t and it ended in a typical and dull way. Which is a shame from a film which offered such satirical sass in the beginning – “And you may ask yourself: how did I get here?” I think we’re all asking that after seeing that film.
A Hologram for the King (2016), directed by Tom Tykwer, is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by Icon Film Distribution. Certificate 12A.