Lost in the Desert
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
A Hologram for the King is a small scale story set in the vastness of the Saudi Arabian desert. A failing businessman has come to sell his groundbreaking idea to the king. When you drop Tom Hanks into this situation, a quiet movie becomes a character study and Hanks is the master of that situation. Whatever his character does, we believe him. When he drinks too much, he loses his edge but not his mind. When he wakes up from an unpleasant dream, we believe absolutely that he has been sleeping. Hanks creates a lonely American we all root for. Is it enough to draw us to the theater?
A swift and clever opening sequence tells us that Alan Clay (Hanks) has lost his job, his wife, and his home. He is embarking on a thin possibility of redemption with a plan to sell a system of holographic teleconferencing to the king of Saudi Arabia. Alan arrives with a scheduled appointment but no support system whatever until he meets Yousef (Alexander Black) who becomes Alan’s guide through the next weeks of waiting for the appointment that is rescheduled each day with little explanation of the whereabouts of the king.
During this genuinely strange time we watch the lone American wander about killing time and observing – without any guidance – the thoroughly alien environment. Through Alan’s eyes, we see a vast desert landscape marked by pockets of people who have no contact with one another. There seems to be no social interaction outside the self-contained and clearly defined religious sects or social classes.
In the vast desert, an enormous city block of towers and buildings is rising though we see scant evidence of workmen and no sense of who will inhabit this isolated ghost city. Sometimes with Yousef driving him in his dilapidated car, often alone, Alan wanders aimlessly through all this as he waits for the king who never comes. Except for an occasional phone call with the daughter he loves (Tracey Fairaway), this is an insecure man alone in a land where he knows no one. He is accompanied only by thoughts of his professional and personal disasters.
Until, that is, he develops several medical needs that require the services of Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a doctor who steps in to treat him when he hurts his head in a fall from a chair. For reasons never explained, Alan breaks chairs whenever he chooses to sit down. Also unexplained is why Doctor Zahra lives alone in magnificent luxury in a culture that seems unlikely to hand such wealth to a female doctor who seems to know no one. We learn quickly that whatever their cultural differences, she is ready to know a quiet, lonely American businessman.
Though the puzzle of the cultures is left unexplored, the unfamiliar, stark beauty of the desert is a fine reward for audiences. Tom Hanks’ portrait of a decent, discouraged American is your reason to go.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Hologram for the King
Word count : 497
Studio : Lionsgate
Running time : 1:38
Rating : R