A Hologram for the King
In this screen version of Dave Eggers’ book directed and written by Tom Tykwer, Tom Hanks stars as Alan Clay. Alan was once a successful salesman, but things aren’t going so well these days. As a member of Schwinn’s Board of Directors, Alan made the decision to outsource American jobs to China, a decision that didn’t turn out well. He has recently gone through an ugly divorce, and is on his way to Saudi Arabia to try to sell holographic IT systems to the king for a massive new development in the middle of the desert that will include 1.5 million people by 2025. We see the project in various stages of construction with no working going on, but this is never explained to the viewer.
Alan is under heavy pressure from his boss to close the deal, who checks in with him several times a day. We get the idea that the deal is a must for Alan to keep his job. He also needs to make the deal to pay for his daughter’s college education. Despite being divorce, Alan has a very good relationship with his daughter Kit, played by Tracey Fairaway. She encourages him in the job he is in Saudi Arabia to do, unlike his father who is a discourager.
Unfortunately for Alan, nothing goes right once he gets to Saudi Arabia. He is badly jet lagged, oversleeps every morning, (never setting an alarm – duh!), and repeatedly gets drunk (in a country where alcohol is illegal). Things don’t go much better for Alan and his team as they try to get an audience with the king to make their sales presentation.
Since he oversleeps each morning, Alan needs a driver to get him to the king’s development an hour away. Alexander Black, as Yousef, is a likable driver, who eventually bonds with Alan. We enjoyed Yousef’s music he played in the car and the beautiful scenes of Saudi Arabia. Yousef, and Muslims in general, are portrayed sympathetically; not as terrorists or as folks that treat women as second-class citizens, but mostly just as ordinary people in this film – though there is a passing reference to public executions that take place in the city Alan is staying in. Muslims are often portrayed praying in this film.
Eventually we realize that Alan is depressed. He develops a medical condition that is meant as a metaphor for his depression. When he seeks medical attention, he runs into Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury), a rare female physician, and even rarer still is that she is in the presence of a man alone in a Muslim country as she treats Alan.
As the film goes on, we see Alan beginning to gain more confidence. However, it largely takes place in a slow moving film that doesn’t have much of a plot. There is some humor sprinkled in, but watching the film, I felt I was living through the same depressing nightmare that defined Alan’s life. As a result, I cannot recommend this film to you; instead I’m recommending that you wait for Hanks’ upcoming film entitled Sulley, directed by Clint Eastwood.
Hanks’ performance is fine, but certainly nothing special. The best part of the film is the opening scene in which Hanks talk-sings “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads.
This is the second collaboration between Hanks and Tykwer, the first being 2012’s Cloud Atlas, a film we did not see. It seems a strange vehicle for Hanks, as it is based on a book that has gotten very mixed reader reviews on Amazon.
The film is rated R for some adult language and unnecessary female nudity.