By Christian DiMartino
“And you may ask yourself-Well… How did I get here?”
-Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
I open this review with that quote because not only does Tom Hanks recite the opening lyrics to the song within the first minute of the weirdly beautiful A Hologram for the King, but also, you may ask yourself a similar thing half the time you’re watching it. A Hologram for the King, the latest from director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas), is one random ass movie. But yet there’s images from it that still linger in the memory, and will probably continue to do so.
It’s gotten a mixed response thus far, so I don’t expect everyone to enjoy it. This is one of those movies that will simply divide people down the middle. You’ll either go with Tykwer’s beautiful vision, or you’ll just see it as a mirage. I’ve had a night to completely collect my thoughts on A Hologram for the King. It might not be enough, but I’ll try.
The title is misleading. Well, okay it isn’t. But yet one would expect it to focus directly on this hologram, but that is not the case. Hanks, part of what reeled me in here, plays Alan Clay, a lonely, somewhat miserable businessman who has troubles with his daughter and also had serious troubles with his previous job at Schwinn.
So, he decides to take a trip to Saudi Arabia and present his idea (the hologram so to speak) to the King. But it’s his first day there that you realize it isn’t just about the hologram. Turns out nobody has seen the King in at least 18 months, and nobody knows when he’ll be back.
So really, the rest of the film revolves around Alan (who has a large cyst growing on his back) and the people around him. One is a goofy escort (not like the hooker) named Yousef (Alexander Black), who may or may not be in serious danger. Another is Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a doctor who sees him for the cyst, but there’s more to it than that. Also, his team needs WiFi, and they also lose air conditioning, and… and…
There’s so much to say about A Hologram for the King that I should’ve really just taken notes. Yet I couldn’t really take my eyes off of it. For all of its WTF moments, the film really just pulls you in. Or, it pulled me in. I found the randomness of A Hologram for the King infectious. Not everyone will though. So, if you see this film based on my recommendation, I may ask myself, “My God! What have I done?!” (Get it? Like the song? Whatever).
A Hologram for the King is somewhat bleak, but yet it also manages to be funny. Also, this is one of those rare, magical cases where substance and style join forces. Frank Griebe’s cinematography, particularly near the swimming sequence near the end, is a beauty to behold. He brings out the best in Saudi Arabia.
As for performances, everyone is pretty good. This is Hanks’ show though. Hanks is one of the most beloved stars we have. I will watch the man in anything. He’s delivered the goods for decades now, and I take comfort in the fact that he doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Here, he seems to be as puzzled as we are, which kind of adds to the fun. Aside from that though, this is wonderful, solid work.
Sure, in terms of story (man trying to find his groove) it isn’t really anything new. Also, a few characters don’t really serve a purpose. All that be damned, I still found A Hologram for the King to be a puzzling, fascinating piece of work. One that will burn in the memory for a long time.