Sometimes you have to go halfway around the world to find yourself.
Undoubtedly, actor Tom Hanks is one of the most famous film stars on the planet. Hanks has starred in everything from blockbusters (The DaVinci Code) to award winning drama (Saving Private Ryan) to amiable comedy (Splash) to popular kid’s fare (Pixar’s Toy Story films). If Tom Hanks is in it, studio executives can usually bank on a pretty good return on his films. This wouldn’t be the case for director Tom Tykwer’s A Hologram for the King. The oddly titled film bombed at the box office, bringing in less than a third of its estimated $30 million dollar budget.
Tom Hanks stars as Alan Clay, and distressed businessman who has traveled to Saudi Arabia to try to pitch a new holographic teleconferencing network to the king of the country. Alan finds his life in turmoil as he’s recently lost his home and his wife to a divorce, while struggling to pay for his daughter Kitty’s college. Alan’s time in Saudi Araba is fraught with frustration, including delayed meetings with the king, a lack of wi-fi for his co-workers and their eventual presentation, a wacky chauffeur named Yousef (Alexander Black in his feature film debut), and a mysterious lumpy growth on his back that’s getting bigger by the day.
A Hologram for the King is just about as weird as its title. The film is a rumination on life played for laughs in the Saudi dessert. Alan Clay appears to be having a run of bad luck, and his life is made up of worries and frustrations that never seem to end. When he sits in chairs they fall apart. He can’t seem to get himself off the jet lag from his trip and often misses the shuttle to his work (relying on a cab driver time and time again). His boss gets more and more annoyed by his lack of productive results at his job. In a way, Alan feels a lot like how most of us feel — as if things are falling apart and all you can do is stand by and watch them crumble.
The film explores how life can change in the blink of an eye, and how you can end up in the most unexpected of places…sometimes for the better. At first, Alan’s life overseas is fraught with confusion over local customs (no booze!) and mores. However, as time marches on he seems to settle in and eventually finds that bad things can bring about big change, as when he gets the mass on his back checked and inexplicably finds himself falling for the local doctor who is going through her own trials and tribulations.
Tom Hanks is one of cinema’s most appealing and likable actors. The guy could just sit and read a phone book and I’d be entertained. While Alan Clay may not be the most memorable character Hanks has ever played, his performance is funny and sad and emotionally open. Clay is a sympathetic character and only an actor of Hanks caliber could breathe life into him that he feels fully fleshed even when the film runs only an hour and a half. Other actors are on-call in minor roles, including Tom Skerritt (Poltergeist III) as Alan’s father and Sarita Choudhury (Lady in the Water) as Alan’s Saudi doctor, but this ends up being Hanks’ show all the way.
A Hologram for the King (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.39:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. This transfer looks, not surprisingly, excellent considering its recent release. The image is crystal clear with solid black levels and bright colors. Overall this Lionsgate title looks excellent. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video transfer, this audio mix is excellent and features a wide array of surround sounds and directional effects. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include three featurettes on the making of the film (“The Making of A Hologram for the King”, “From Novel to Screen: The Adaptation of A Hologram for the King”, and “Perfecting the Culture”) and a digital copy of <b>A Hologram for the King</b>.
A Hologram for the King isn’t a great movie. It can be slow at times and the story feels thin and padded with subplots that don’t really seem to matter much. I couldn’t have cared less about Alan’s team, who spend the movie hot and sweaty in a tent waiting for the internet to arrive. Even so, the film floats on the charisma of Tom Hanks’ performance and some truly gorgeous desert photography by Frank Griebe (Cloud Atlas). For those reasons alone, the film is worth checking out.