A Hologram for the King, directed by Tom Tykwer, is a charming and humorous film. The story – while interesting at first – does lose its way and never really finds itself again, but the film always keeps true when its characters are concerned. The film solidly delivers characters that you want to see and learn more about. So where does A Hologram for the King go wrong and where does it go right? Let us get this review underway and see.
The story in A Hologram for the King follows Alan – played by Tom Hanks – who must travel to Saudi Arabia and pitch a new holographic conferencing device to a King. More so though, the film is a redemption story for our main character as he attempts to get some semblance of stability and success back into his life. Along the way he encounters many interesting people, and a culture that at times feels alien.
At the core of this film is a great character. As always, Tom Hanks is an actor who is extremely watchable and always likeable. He is able to balance humour and dramatic emotion really well and his ability to bring you in and connect you to the character he is portraying is what makes him the reliable joy that he is.
But stepping away from the actor and focusing on the character (something this film does well), I really found myself connected and invested in the story of Alan. This is a man who is trying his best to accomplish things that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t massively inconvenient asks. But bureaucracy, hurdles and a lack of help, make it an almost impossible task. I really found myself digging in with Alan and wanting to see him succeed. This meant that watching ‘A Hologram for the King’ was an effortless pleasure. I just settled in and allowed the film to deliver a compelling character in a complicated situation.
What the film also gets right, and adds to the joy of watching the film; is surround the main character with secondary characters that you are happy to see again; the main one absolutely being Alan’s driver turn good friend, Yousef – played by Alexander black. Yousef is someone who just exudes happiness. Every time he appeared on-screen it was always enjoyable. Not only is he a funny individual but his chemistry with Alan is something that continually produces smiling gold. The two had me laughing or smiling all the time and it was a friendship that helped strengthen the film.
But I want to circle back to the films main character, as there’s more to be said. The film does a good job of exploring the current situation that Alan is in, and the reason why it feels much better-rounded is because the film gives little windows into Alan’s past and the events that led him to where he is. Now these little windows are just that, little. The film doesn’t flash back and forth for large portions of the film. It instead just gives us just enough context before jumping back to the present time and continuing with the main focus of the film. These glimpses help to lay things out for the audience. The small amount of context is just the right amount to keep us in the loop and well-versed in more of what makes Alan the man he is now.
One thing that I would have liked more of though is the relationship that begins to grow between Alan and Zahra – played by Sarita Choudhury – who at first is Alan’s doctor, but soon begins to become more. The film for some reason puts the bulk of their developing relationship in the latter half of the film – a section of the film that feels a little lost compared to the first two acts. For some reason the film decides to focus on this element of Alan’s journey in primarily the third act and so it feels a little out of left-field and rushed. What you get is meaningful, and certainly adds to Alan’s attempt to turn his life around; it’s just a shame that it’s handled in such a rushed, underdeveloped manner.
This is kind of a problem for the whole of the films third act; which for some reason ramps in pace. The films starts throwing a lot at you and does it in quick little wrap-up scenes. I really think that the film would have benefited from a slightly longer running time (the film is only on for 1 hour and 38 minutes). Had the film had more time, I think it would have been able to adequately explore all of its moving parts and wrap them up in a much smoother manner. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the overall ending of the film and where it left all the characters; I just would have preferred more time for it to happen.
The last point I want to touch upon is the culture clash element of the film. With the film taking place in Saudi Arabia, it does of course mean that things happen a little differently. There are cultural norms that aren’t the norm for westerners. This as you can imagine creates some interesting, and at times humorous interactions. Alcohol isn’t allowed to be consumed – unless you know the right places or people who can get you some – and there is the expected way in which men and women must conduct themselves around one another. It all made for a layer to the film that I didn’t at first expect. It also feeds into the films excellent dry sense of humour; something Tom Hanks is great at.
I was surprised by ‘A Hologram for the King’. I didn’t get much excitement from the trailer, and going in I had very little anticipation within me. So it was a nice feeling to walk out of the cinema and have that feeling you get when you watch a good film that leaves you satisfied. Now the film is certainly not perfect, the flaws are clear to see during my viewing. But overall they didn’t impede the enjoyable experience that was this film.
So I will be recommending ‘A Hologram for the King’; a pleasant film, with a character and a story that entertained me and emotionally grabbed me – simple but effective.
So do you have any thoughts on ‘A Hologram for the King’ or this review? Perhaps leave them in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the rest of my ramblings, you could either follow this blog directly or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle (click the link for ease). And so last but never least, have a great week and I hope you enjoy some good films.