Release: 19th September 2016
Format: BR / DVD
A failed American sales rep looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his company’s product to a wealthy monarch.
Screenwriter / novelist Dave Eggers clearly loves a story about those lost in life. From Away We Go and Where The Wild Things Are right through to Promised Land and A Hologram For The King, here is a storyteller who finds the existential to be a fruitful endeavour. With his latest novel, the subject is a man quite literally stranded in a foreign and uncertain land. A Hologram For The King sounds like a pretentious title for a pretentious film; which it is. Better summed up by the presence of showy director Tom Twkyer, and starring the perpetual everyman Tom Hanks, this is an uneven mix of the relatable dressed in hyperbolic filmmaking.
The film opens with Hanks taking on some classic Talking Heads in what sets itself up as eccentric soul searching. Then we awaken to something more naturally funny and thematically astute. It sets the tone for the rest of the viewing experience. Hanks’ Alan is a man who inhabits a world of mysterious lumps, evasive foreign liaisons, a Groundhog Day level of repetition, a metaphysical building project and an ever growing number of unsteady furniture. Even Alan’s staff can’t seem to catch a break. This is a world that is quite literally broken, untameable and domineering. Peppered among the iterant story are the occasional forays into some semblance of a backstory, but nothing holds the weight to add any depth or meaning to Alan’s quandary. What Twkyer creates is a very boring story about a very unexceptional man experiencing very unimpressive situations surrounded by untrustworthy characters. There is one clear message A Hologram For The King wishes to share, it is don’t trust an Arab, and the Chinese rule everything.
As the film peters off into a half manicured love story and sandwiches in some GBW (gratuitous Ben Whishaw) you’ll question what the whole point is. It’s neither a re-coming of age tale or a full blown rom-com; A Hologram For The King just seems to wallow in its own esoteric whimsy. If you don’t get that Alan IS the hologram (a lifelike interpretation of a three-dimensional object) or that Yousef’s love life is a parallel to Alan’s own messed up life, or even that the cancerous lump is a manifestation of Alan’s need to ‘remove’ a damaging part of his life, or any of the hundred glaring metaphors; then you might find this to be a charming and maybe even subtle affair. For the rest of us, when you might find Michael Bay to be a little more discreet, if not less self aware.
On the plus side, Hanks and Alexander Black do share an endearing and rewarding chemistry, and the inadvertent ode to You’ve Got Mail (classic Hanks) in act 3, gives added laughs and meta kudos.
Film Grade: D
One rather intricate, at least from a psychological perspective, Making Of goes far to detail the film’s inner working. This is more of an explanitory feature than an ‘insider’s eye’-style work, but it is a decent watch.
Special Features Grade: C-
It may have a wonderful cast, and its heart is in the right place, but A Hologram For The King is far too focused on trying to mean something rather than just exploring it.