Review: A Hologram for the King


Whilst Tom Tykwer's newest feature is promising in concept and indulges in its impressive visuals, the finished product is more of a deflated mish-mash of half-baked storylines with Hanks' involvement coming across as more of a filler project than anything more.

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Tom Hanks is one of the most likeable faces in Hollywood. An apparent decent guy off-screen, Hanks is never not playing the ‘decent’ guy on it. I mean, three years ago he was voted “the most trusted person in America” in a poll. I think that’s enough to assume that people like him, and that people will see the films he appears in. Hell, we like a ‘decent-guy’ film, don’t we? And Hanks is the most decent of them all.

A Hologram for the King proves to be no exception to the rule. Based on Dave Egger’s best-seller, Hanks plays the ‘decent’ Alan Clay who, after a gritty divorce and a daughter with ever-present, ever-threatening tuition fees, travels to Saudi Arabia to pitch a holographic conferencing system to the King. And it does not go well. In terms of narrative, plot, characters, their own lives – oh gosh, everything. Nothing, really, goes as well as it so easily could have.

Now, the film does take a stab at a much needed international cross-over of the ‘westerner’ getting to grips with life on different cultural ground, as opposed to the other way round which is always, somehow still in 2016, the default. I especially appreciate the different cultural ground being one with so much modern stigma attached to it in our own daily, western lives. However, Hologram is more a big swing and a miss, resulting in a messy overview and a confused outlook; raising hopes of the glorious defeat of cultural stereotypes before plunging you right back into your high-chair where you are spoon-fed the same old story you’ve heard over and over again before.

With the majority of the film plodding along at a slightly-more-than bearable pace, it is the originality and novelty of director Tom Tykwer’s style and Alexander Berner’s editing, the latter which is often quite unsettling, which continues to refresh the intrigue which drew audiences to the screen in the first place. And yet I can’t decide if that style was really too beneficial to the plot, with rather trippy sequences, like Cray’s anxiety attack, appearing as if they were shot for a completely different film. The problem is, Hologram can’t make up its mind over how subjective it wanted to be. Whilst wanting to be an intelligent comment on the nature of worlds colliding, it shoots for too much and tries to perform the role of the investigative-of-the-human-nature film on top. Which doesn’t work.

But it is the last twenty odd minutes which really send the film into the realm of the dazed and confused. That last quarter is its own self-contained love story, almost, tacked on barely with masking tape to the rest of it as if to recapture the very stereotypes it set out to release. Completely unnecessary, but of course there has to be a love-story. Of course it has to be in there somewhere, because how else can it be sold to us, the ticket-buying public who so crave heterosexual romance on repeat?

The thing is, the romance comes out of a solid nowhere. There is absolutely no chemistry between Clay and his love-interest Doctor Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), until maybe the last five minutes, and in fact watching them interact is kind of awkward. And not the kind of teenage-love-story, I-don’t-know-how-to-talk-to-girls awkward – more the ‘oh gosh, these characters have not got enough depth or interaction time to fit together’ kind of awkward. And obviously Zahra is rather badly written. Obviously the female character is. I’m not bitter.

Whilst the visuals were something to be awed at on many fleeting occasions, the real redeeming factor of Hologram was Alexander Black’s Yousef who inarguably has the best lines, and the only real person who has that kind of character-chemistry with Hank’s Clay the other characters missed out on, even though he is lost three quarters of the way through the film with little explanation. He is given all this importance which, of course, is hastily sucked up by the vacuum of the servitude of someone else’s narrative – and of course it’s the narrative of the white man. Even Tom Hanks, the most decent of them all, can’t save that.

Overall a big hit-and-miss of a film, A Hologram for the King does well stylistically and its use of repetitive motifs throughout rather reminiscent of Southampton’s own Iman Bahmanabadi and Leo Barton’s Cycle. But sadly the awe stops there, with Hanks completely miscast and a severe lack of chemistry or adequate handling of a simple plot-line causing the film’s downfall. Messy and confused, it’s a shame the energy had to be lost on something which will so easily be forgotten.

A Hologram for the King (2016), directed by Tom Tykwer, is distributed in the UK by Icon Entertainment. Certificate 12A. 


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Third year Film and English student living in D.C., self-proclaimed go-to Edge expert on Cloverfield, Fall Out Boy, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Loves mostly those three things.

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