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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Waiting On Royalty

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday April 28, 06:12 pm
Tom Hanks is a castaway in a Saudi crowd in Hologram

A Hologram for the King
Opens April 29, wide
3 out of 5

Tom Hanks finds nuances in most roles he has played, particularly when he’s required to be average. In his best work, his core decency is put through the ringer and we’re in it for the ride, totally captivated just because he’s (just a little) more resilient than the rest of us (Bridge of Spies, Captain Phillips, Saving Private Ryan).

Now Hanks reteams with Tom Twyker, the director of one of his most notorious failures (Cloud Atlas) to unveil another shade of his Hanksian Everyman. In A Hologram for the King, Hollywood’s most likeable actor is drifting, on the verge of being phased out and fearful for the future. Casting doesn’t get more believable than that.

Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, Hologram follows the misadventures of Alan Clay (Hanks) in modern Saudi Arabia (uncharted territory for westerner filmmakers). A salesman whose best days are behind him, Clay hopes to turn his luck around by selling a holographic teleconference system for the state-of-the-art city the government is building. The deal faces a number of challenges, chief among them all the fact nobody knows when the king will decide to make an appearance. Time, we learn, is even more relative in this part of the world.

At mercy of forces beyond his control and stuck in a “Waiting for Godot” kind of situation, Clay develops meaningful connections with his driver (Alexander Black) and his doctor (Sarita Choudhury). Neither of them are at ease with the Saudi regime but they manage to make lives for themselves despite restrictions and cultural inequality.

More a character study than a plot-driven drama, A Hologram for the King’s main concern is the modern man’s ennui and how to break away from it. Clay’s misery comes to an end the moment he starts interacting with the strange world around him. At no point does the film patronize or whitewash the setting — it is what it is, and you gotta make the best of it.

Hologrammay be a notch highbrow for general audiences (Kierkegaard gets name-checked, if as the butt of a joke). The ending also lacks the finality of a crowd-pleaser. So what? It’s a slice-of-life with great cinematography and solid acting. You could do worse.

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