A wry peek into the experiences of a washed up American executive attempting to score an IT contract for the king’s project in Saudi Arabia. Tom Tykwer and Dave Eggers are a winning combination, the former as director/writer/composer (Cloud Atlas, Paris, je t’aime, Run Lola Run) the latter as novelist (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Wild Things) and screenwriter (Where the Wild Things are, Promised Land, Away We Go). Their work has constant subtle jokes and odd combinations that make it wonderfully entertaining. Unfortunately, many viewers will miss the comedy, partly because of the extended frustrations in the beginning of the film, and partly because it requires alert listening.
In A Hologram for the King, Alan Clay (Hanks) has wangled a job with an IT company pursuing a contract to equip a city the king of Saudi Arabia plans to build. Clay comes across as a rather disgruntled middle-aged man trying to adjust to a divorce and money problems following a lucrative career with Schwinn Bicycles. The film opens with his plane trip and getting settled into a hotel. He seems very inept as he oversleeps, misses the shuttle to the work site, and has to hire a driver—who will actually be with him during most of his stay because Clay gets into various dilemmas. The driver Dave (Whishaw) is one of the many characters that provide color and humor in the contrasts/conflicts shown between eastern and western cultures.
Clay has no end of troubles when he arrives on-site to join his team of young computer whizzes helping him with his audio-visual presentation to the king. But days go by, as the king’s visit is postponed and Clay is given incomplete or wrong information about the facilities and who is available for assistance. Complicating matters is a huge bump that has appeared on his back near his spine.
The film has no end of complications, humorous incongruities, and blessings. It artfully presents all the characters from their own points of view so that blaming and identifying the “bad guys” simply doesn’t exist; the film is very forgiving of human foibles. Clay’s character is a good mixture of someone trying to do well and right, being astute and observant, yet bumbling from time to time. It seems hard for him to pull up his assertive self and make things happen; he only does this after numerous frustrating events. But when he does hop to it, we see that things get much better.
This is a film for those who listen carefully to the dialog and catch the running humor in almost every scene, reflecting an American in a Moslem country, the efforts of a man who must re-invent his life, the unexpected admiration—and suspicion—of so many American actions by Muslims in other countries, and the inefficiency of bureaucracies, all interwoven into the human need for social connection and meaningfulness.
Another truly rewarding part of this film is the interaction between the actors playing the two main characters. Hanks and Whishaw are entirely in sync, showing the joy of male bonding and friendship, no matter what their differences. The addition of Choudhury as a supportive, romantic interest enhanced the film as a whole.
I especially liked one of the points of the film about the admiration of America alongside suspicion toward us. We deserve both aspects of our reputation.
An American in-----Saudi Arabia.