Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) travels to Saudi Arabia, where the King is determined to set up a new city in the desert. Clay needs to sell holographic teleconferencing to the project, but with no sign of the King or the person he was told was his main contact, all hope seems to be fading away. While waiting for his luck to change, Clay befriends his driver Yousef (Alexander Black) and begins to learn more about the country he finds himself in, but it is when a medical emergency forces him to go to hospital that his life changes utterly.
A Hologram for the King is a strange sort of film; at once a culture clash story and one about a man going through a mid-life crisis after he has lost his motivation, director Tom Tykwer starts the film as quirky and strange, but once the story gets underway, all of this falls aside, leaving us with the distinct feeling that we have seen all of this before.
Tom Hanks leads the cast here, and if anyone doubts that Hanks is able to pull off a charming businessman who finds himself going through his own ‘Lost in Translation’ moment as he tries to find meaning in a generic hotel in the desert, then you have not been paying attention. This is Hanks’ film, but he is backed up relatively well by Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury and Sidse Babett Knudsen in much smaller roles.
Tom Tykwer’s screenplay is adapted from Dave Eggers’ book of the same name, but while the story may work on the page, there seems to be a struggle to make it pop on the big screen. Framing devices, such as emails between Hanks and his characters’ daughter, come and go throughout the film, and there are times when the story seems to be working as a quirky spin on a familiar tale, but in the final act, anything new or refreshing is abandoned in favour of wrapping the story up as quickly and neatly as possible, which leaves the audience feeling a little cheated.
As director, Tykwer makes sure that Tom Hanks’ character is front and centre of the film, but apart from being a man re-evaluating his life in 2010 after presumably being laid off, we actually learn very little about Alan Clay. The pacing of the film is fine for the first half of the film, and although the culture shock comedy is predictable, it is entertaining enough that the audience wants to stick with the story to see where it goes. Sadly, the film’s pace only gets faster toward the end of the film, leaving the conclusion jarring and the audience feeling unsatisfied.
In all, A Hologram for the King tries to be quirky take on a familiar tale, but it is not long before anything that makes the film different falls by the wayside and, although Tom Hanks is an incredibly strong and experienced actor, even he cannot carry the weight of this messy film on his shoulders.