Redemption in the desert
Tom Hanks stars in adaptation of David Eggers novel
With A Hologram for the King, writer-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior, Cloud Atlas) has fashioned a lively, trenchant comedy/drama out of Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel about a beleaguered American salesman trying to repair his personal life and his professional fortunes while waiting to pitch a very lucrative IT deal in the Saudi Arabian desert.
Tom Hanks plays the salesman, a mild-mannered mid-level striver named Alan Clay. He’s recently divorced and still reeling from financial setbacks that have put his house payments and his daughter’s college tuition in jeopardy. When he arrives in Saudi Arabia for his business appointment with Saudi royalty, he finds his hosts cordial but ill-prepared, plus the much-anticipated meeting gets repeatedly postponed.
The salesman’s Saudi sojourn plays as a kind of offbeat social comedy, part culture clash and part political satire. That serio-comic waiting game provides the central narrative hook, but Hanks’ Alan is also the focal point of several smaller, more personal stories. Before it’s finished, Hologram also contains bits of father-daughter drama and post-divorce romance, a medical episode, a few brief reflections on aging and some gentle satire on international, cross-cultural stereotyping.
Hanks, of course, is once again playing the amiably anxious American ambassador of national allegories. He seems perfect for the role, but he exudes an iconic humanity that is sometimes at odds with an Eggers/Tykwer scenario that is more attuned to allegorical impact than to fully developed characterizations.
Alan Clay is the obvious protagonist here, but a female physician (Sarita Choudhury), Clay’s daughter Kit (Tracey Fairaway) and a roistering driver and guide named Yousef (Alexander Black) might be the story’s true heroes. They’re the most striking of the secondary characters, and they’re the ones who nurture and/or provoke the most telling changes in Alan’s outlook. A flirtatious Danish woman (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Alan’s curmudgeonly father (Tom Skerrit) make noteworthy contributions as well.