A Hologram For The King


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Tom Hanks as Alan Clay in Tom Tykwer's A Hologram For The King
"The film looks great if you like sand" | Photo: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

It's about time Tom Hanks returned to his old stamping ground in light comedy where he began. Maggie Smith began there too, not that she's involved in this. No need. Tom has it covered.

He plays Alan, a middle-aged salesman who is sent to Saudi Arabia to persuade the king to invest in state-of-the-art hologram technology for reasons that don't matter, even if you understand them. He is chosen for the job because once he met the king's nephew in a gents lav at some international hotel. Alan cracked a joke while washing his hands and the king's nephew laughed. On the basis of this random encounter he is picked to lead a team of IT specialists and flown to The Kingdom.

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The problem with Alan is that he's past his sell-by and he knows it ("I feel like a pane of glass that needs to be shattered"). His boss knows it too ("You're not selling bicycles to kids any more"). His teenage daughter half knows it. All he has to do is pull this one off and he's back in the land of the living.

Things don't go well. He keeps sitting on chairs that collapse - a running gag that exhausts itself - and being given the cold shoulder by officialdom. His presentation is scheduled to take place in a tent in the desert where the internet connection is rubbish. And then the king doesn't turn up. Tomorrow, Alan is told. He is told the same the next day. And the next. And...

The film looks great if you like sand. The comedy is as welcome as whipped cream on hot chocolate. Hanks knows all about timing. He hasn't lost his skills.

Yousef (Alexander Black), Alan's taxi driver, acts as a zany tourist guide ("We don't have unions. We have Filipinos"). He has been to America. He knows what's cool.

"Do you like Chicago?" he asks.

"Not in the winter," Alan says

"No, the band," Yousef says.

He plays the tape. Alan admits he doesn't like Chicago in a battered car in the blistering heat. Or anywhere, for that matter. What does he like? Right now, nothing much.

All this works well until the final chapter when the film turns into a rom-not-com. Alan changes. No longer the loser he stands up straight and puts a sparkle back into those tired old eyes. He becomes Mr Reliable. And the chairs respond. They don't fall down any more.

The jokes are over.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2016
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A Hologram For The King packshot
A middle aged salesman is sent to Saudi Arabia to sell a complicated IT system to the king and comes up against interminable delays and the prospect of terminal failure
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Director: Tom Tykwer

Writer: Tom Tykwer, based on the novel by David Eggers

Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Tracey Fairaway, Jane Perry, Tom Skerritt, David Menkin, Christy Meyer, Megan Maczko, Eric Meyers, Ben Whishaw,

Year: 2016

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, France, Germany, US

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