There’s a famous sketch from English comedians Morecambe & Wise where after Eric Morecambe incompetently plays the piano to an irate Andre Previn he explains, “I’m playing all the right notes. But not necessarily in the right order.”
I couldn’t help feel that way upon the end of A Hologram For The King, which while seemingly aimless for almost its entire running time is still none-the-less inviting, genial and an all round pleasant and warm watch. In fact, it’s oddly charming and personable because of how it unravels. It also helps that it has a bona-fide acting master in every scene. Tom Hanks is at his perfunctory but subtly captivating everyman best in A Hologram For The King, and he smoothly leads the film over any cinematic sand dunes that arise.
Tom Hanks stars as failed and desperate American businessman Alan Clay, who has been sent to Saudi Arabia to secure an IT contract for a huge new complex that’s being built in the new middle of the desert. At first Alan Clay is completely flummoxed by his new surroundings and the difficulties of trying to solve business issues while adjusting to the culture. But he’s slowly won over and begins to adjust and find a new vigor for life that had become dormant.
As per usual, Tom Hanks eats up every scene. In each shot, he deploys a nuanced hint of characterization that builds together over time to make Alan Cray well rounded and resonant. Like he’s done throughout his filmography, Tom Hanks picks the perfect scene to turn the screw and hammer home what makes Alan Cray tick, doing so in a slight but powerful way.
It also helps that writer and director Tom Tykwer and Tom Hanks clearly have an understanding having previously worked together on 2012’s Cloud Atlas. Tom Tykwer directs with the confidence that comes from having one of the best actors in the world on your roster, slowly building rather than forcing A Hologram For The King’s conflicts and plots down the audiences’ throat.
Indicative of the film’s approach is the repeated, silent shots of shuffling feet, twitching hands, and drinking, each of which give us a unique insight into the characters and economically gets to the mood of the scene, while at the same time highlighting the aching human aspect of the film.
At its heart, A Hologram For A King is a simple film about how we can sometimes be overawed and blindsided by the complications of life and work, but all we need to do is step back and breathe in what’s actually important. Genial and unassuming, it doesn’t grab you by the neck and demand your attention, which means that it could just pass some of you by. Yet it’s a surprisingly touching, gently funny watch, which once again proves Tom Hanks is in a league of his own.