Tom Hanks stars in a scene from the movie "A Hologram for the King." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NEW YORK (CNS) — The simple joys of a stable career and a second chance at love are celebrated in "A Hologram for the King" (Lionsgate).
While Catholic viewers will welcome the former element in this adaptation of Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel, the personal component will strike them as less straightforward.
It takes quite a while for the story, which stars Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, to raise even the prospect of this happy ending. Following the pattern set in the book, writer-director Tom Tykwer instead has his protagonist wandering in the Arabian Desert for most of the film, brooding over his past misdeeds — and suffering quite a bit as a result.
As things kick off, it’s 2010 and Alan, a business executive, is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he’s trying to persuade the king to invest in a holographic teleconferencing system. Unless he lands the contract, divorced dad Alan won’t be able to keep his daughter in college.
He’s staying in a luxury hotel. Yet he and his small staff have to work in a large tent, without air-conditioning or Wi-Fi, at the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade — a planned but unfinished city with no clear completion date.
Jet-lagged, Alan never can show up on time. But as it turns out, the king never appears when expected, either.
Since Alan’s team can’t prepare its work and the king’s arrival is uncertain, he has a great deal of time to figure out what has gone wrong in his life, a
subject he sometimes discusses with his driver, Yousef (Alexander Black). Yousef went to college in Alabama and has an obsessive appreciation for American pop music.
Among the past events haunting Alan is his last business venture: the closing of a U.S.-based Schwinn bicycle factory so that the bikes could be made — more cheaply of course — in China.
Amid the self-recrimination, Alan fends off romantic advances from Danish embassy staffer Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen). He also explores the beginnings of an honest adult relationship with Saudi doctor Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who treats a large cyst that suddenly appears on his back.
Biblically literate viewers will see someone lost in the sand and afflicted with a boil. But Alan’s journey of discovery mostly just lurches in several misguided directions before he gains a solid footing, and something of a moral center, through his liaison with Zahra.
The sharp differences between Saudi law and culture and Western sensibilities are downplayed in the interest of comedic points. Noticing a crowd in the street, Alan asks Yousef what’s going on, only to be informed that they’re spectators who’ve gathered for a beheading. Alan passes up an invitation to witness the next execution.
Saudi religious police, hunting for infidels and women dressed in styles deemed immodest, lurk about. But they’re only discussed, not encountered.
Resistance to them does ostensibly provide Zahra with a useful excuse to go snorkeling with her top off, though. Seeing her in the water from above, she explains, these agents of oppression won’t be able to tell she’s not a man.
The film contains adult themes, brief upper female nudity, a scene of drug use and fleeting rough and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.