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A Hologram For the King

Year: 2016
Production Co: X-Filme Creative Pool
Director: Tom Twyker
Writer: Dave Eggers/Tom Twyker
Cast: Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury

A Hologram For The King is a very strange movie that's stuffed full of ideas and notions but which ironically doesn't really go anywhere. On paper (in the Dave Eggers novel) it would have been just the kind of quirk book publishers and readers love, but something is badly lost in translating it to the screen, rendering it curiously empty and soulless.

The story is about American businessman Alan (Tom Hanks), going through a divorce and trying to stay connected to his young adult daughter while he travels to Saudi Arabia to try and sell a holographic telecommunication system to the Saudi royal family's government.

He's tripped up when he gets there by the bureaucracy being so dismissive and uncaring, the strange world of Saudi business and the language barrier, so he finds himself just hanging around, trying to get a meeting with the right person and get some decent provisions for his team as they sit sweltering in a tent in the desert.

He befriends the dodgy driver who becomes his taxi service between his Riyadh hotel and the building site every day. He finds a huge and disconcerting lump growing on his back (which he proceeds to try and gouge out with a knife by himself in his hotel room). He finds temporary solace in the arms of a Dutch contractor after being led to believe their embassy has the best parties.

The story progresses in a stop-start fashion, not all of it making a lot of sense and most of it seeming to go in whatever direction was available according to the actors on set on the day. You think it's the story of Alan's burgeoning friendship with his driver, then it turns out to be a love story between he and a winsome Arabian doctor (Sarita Choudhury) going through her own divorce, but everything that happens seems like an afterthought that has little bearing on what came before.

All the subplots are made even more incongruous by the opening, which makes it feel like another story of disaffected middle age in the West. Having Alan walk across his lawn speaking the lyrics of Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime directly to camera (you may not have your beautiful house) couldn't seem to have any other meaning, but it's a very ham fisted way to do it after other movies like American Beauty did it so much better.

You can see where the set pieces and story turns would have been interesting in the book, but here they're just stilted and lifeless, unraveling discordantly and moving on to the next scene. It seems to think it has charm and humour, but it's all just a toneless jumble.

It must have got the finance it needed when Hanks signed on, and he probably did so because it was a few weeks work somewhere exotic and he'd enjoyed working with director Tom Twkyer in Cloud Atlas. They both should have waited for the next thing.

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