- Actors: Tom Hanks, Tom Skerritt, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw
- Director: Tom Tykwer
- Format: NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region A/1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: R
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: August 9, 2016
- Run Time: 104 minutes
A Hologram for the King utilizes several common story structures and genre styles, and though they blend together into an inoffensive 98-minute piece of entertainment, no element within the film stands out. The fish-out-of-water narrative fails to provide enough humor to stand as a comedy alone, but the romance elements are even more ineffectually blasé. By the end of the film, it feels as though we have meandered past the heart of Dave Eggers source material. The narrative structure may be there, but filmmaker Tom Tykwer lacks the ability to unify all of the elements into a cohesive vision.
Some of these elements work quite well on their own, including a fantastical opening sequence featuring Tom Hanks introducing the audience to his character of Adam Clay through a music video/advertisement fantasy sequence. This is also one of the few opportunities Tykwer is given to display the visual style he is best known for as a director. Clay is a struggling American businessman whose past mistakes have him demoted from a position at the head of a company to a traveling salesman for an IT company that manufactures communication holograms for business purposes. His latest assignment is to make a massive sale with the king of Saudi Arabia, though he quickly discovers that they do business in a different manner than America.
Some of these American-businessman fish-out-of-water sequences are somewhat humorous, especially when they involve an amiable cab driver named Yousef (Alexander Black), whose laidback approach to everything is a fantastic contrast to Clay’s reactions of shock and dismay. Despite this being Black’s first film credit (following a TV appearance and short film), he provides the film’s most welcome dynamic and some of the best laughs. Had this film focused on this relationship rather than shifting to a contrived romance, A Hologram for the King may have been a far more enjoyable comedy.
This humor nearly turns into social commentary when Clay becomes briefly acquainted with one of the country’s rare female doctors, named Zahra (Sarita Choudhury). The mere familiarity of this actress upon her arrival in the film is enough to cue audiences that this is the romantic interest, though it also reads slightly false to choose a more recognizable Indian actress rather than an unknown Saudi Arabian performer. Their romance is hindered by the strict laws of Saudi Arabia, but Tykwer’s screenplay wastes the opportunity to make a larger statement about the discrimination against women. Instead, it is almost treated as romantic that Zahra is unable to be seen in public with Clay.
The actual business side of the storyline is also filled with many illogical twists and turns, giving Clay’s task to make a sale appear impossible. There is a lot of backwards talk and illogical delays, with nobody in charge able to tell Clay when the king will even be in town to hear his pitch. The problem with all of these delays and speed bumps is that they eventually just feel like they are delaying the story. Even when the frustrating situation is played for humor, it rarely achieves enough laughs to make the spinning wheels of the narrative endurable. Slapstick humor, including Clay falling out of a number of chairs throughout the film, falls desperately short on laughs in comparison to the effort Hanks puts forth.
A Hologram for the King is an imperfect film, and one that is easy to dissect. On the other hand, those capable of shutting off their brain will find a mildly diverting movie. While nowhere near perfect, it features the kind of inoffensive entertainment that Hanks has been known to attaching himself to for decades. Even if his performance could have been implanted from any number of other Tom Hanks film, this familiarity often works to his advantage. He is the Jimmy Stewart of his generation, with his inherent likeability an asset to nearly every production.
The Blu-ray release of A Hologram for the King includes a Digital HD copy of the film. The extras on the actual disc include two featurettes. The first is a making-of featurette which discusses the difficulties of representing a culture on screen, especially when it was not actually filmed in Saudi Arabia. The second featurette is about the adaptation from Eggers source material to Tykwer’s adaptation.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 4/10