Cinematic Releases: A Hologram for the King

Andrew reviews Tom Tykwer's light romantic yarn, A Hologram for the King.

When we last saw cult German auteur Tom Tykwer on the silver screen, he and Tom Hanks teamed up with the Wachowskis for the independent decades spanning science fiction epic Cloud Atlas.  After a four year hiatus with only minor television work in between, Tykwer is back with Tom Hanks for the light but beautiful romantic lark, A Hologram for the King.  

tom hanks
And you thought chemtrails were bad.

Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Dave Eggers, Tykwer's character study and lush dramedy falls somewhere between the visually inspired Danny Boyle lark A Life Less Ordinary and the quietly tranquil charm of Hanks' own The Terminal.  Here we find Hanks as Alan Clay, a depressed American consultant out of the gate of a bitter divorce who then travels to Saudi Arabia to pitch to the King a new telecommunication computer program which utilizes a lifelike hologram projection system.  From here the film is a picaresque journey through the Middle Eastern desert terrain and a travelogue of the Arabic state with Tykwer's Saudi Arabia being an undiscovered, sterilized and futuristic Utopia yet to be discovered by the west.  While the film does play on xenophobic anxieties from a Western point of view, A Hologram for the King is by and large an inviting tour guide of the Middle East where just around the corner of a gun toting resident is a lush and classy living space that would make most celebrities blush.  

Pinterest Google+ StumbleUpon Twitter Reddit Facebook

Opening with the same mixture of animation, live action, superimposition and music seen in the beginning credits for Run Lola Run with the feel of a music video, Tom Tykwer's visual palette, sonic schema and often terse editing to a fine point evoked much of the same refreshing energy as Slumdog Millionaire.  The production design by Uli Hanisch is absolutely fantastic with clean and striking sets that would make Stanley Kubrick blush, painting a sleek and ultra modern vision of the wealthy deep within Saudi Arabia.  The themes of isolation, ostracizing, lost cultural translation and above all the tale of a lonely man trying to restart his now broken life are exemplified by the film's austere visual style and portrait of the desert as a dry ocean.  Musically the film is of course a splendid listen thanks to regular Tykwer collaborator and musical partner Johnny Klimek and fans of Cloud Atlas will no doubt spot the similarities in the scores immediately.  Tykwer's regular cinematographer Frank Griebe, also fresh off of Cloud Atlas, shoots the open desert with the eyes of a sailor out on the ocean taking in the bright and refreshing ocean spray.  For all the dust and intense heat of the film's setting, not since David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia has the Middle Eastern desert felt this invitingly beautiful.  The picture of course wouldn't be the enjoyable journey that it is without Tom Hanks helming the picture, who imbues the character with a tragicomic charm that invites you to like him almost immediately and despite an off putting thread involving a bleeding cyst, Hanks draws you deep into Alan Clay's crestfallen yet hopeful point of view.

MMMM... Dinner tastes like foot. 
Fans of the German director will come away somewhat disappointed at what essentially feels like a summer vacation with content so lightweight watching the picture becomes more relaxing than challenging.  It doesn't leave you with a whole lot to chew on but as a character driven entertainment it was a very pretty watch with many comic charms peppered throughout.  

I suppose you deserve a day off after all the arduous hard work that went into helping the Wachowskis bring Cloud Atlas to the screen and not everything needs to be dark and heavy. Some will feel their hands closing on air and while they might be right, for myself it opened my eyes to a Middle East I haven't seen in the movies in a very long time.  Where other directors like David O. Russell with Three Kings or most recently Peter Berg's Lone Survivor paint the desert as harsh and unforgiving, Tykwer's film makes you want to swim in it.  Sadly the film won't catch on at the box office due to poor marketing and the lightweight premise but in a way I'd place this with Steven Spielberg's kid cousin The Terminal which also demonstrated the quiet hypnotic power of Tom Hanks' take on the romantic comedy.  No it doesn't reach the heights Perfume: The Story of a Murderer did but for a change I liked seeing a movie put it's feet up while laying on the beach taking in a little sun.


- Andrew Kotwicki