A Hologram for the King

Posted on April 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some disturbing scenes relating to medical issues
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 8, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01GP4HSH2
Copyright 2016 Roadside Attractions
Copyright 2016 Roadside Attractions

“Hologram for the King” is an uneven but engaging and always-watchable film based on the book by Dave Eggers. Like Arthur Miller, David Mamet, and many others, Eggers chose a salesman as a central figure and metaphor to illustrate the mixture of optimism, determination, and despair that is the Sisyphean life of someone whose job is to take no after no after no and keep coming back.

Tom Hanks plays Alan Clay, who has all the people skills of a lifelong salesman and all the desperation of a man who has one last chance to make a deal. He is under intense pressure from his ex-wife and his boss. His daughter has had to take time off from college because he cannot pay the tuition, and her kindness and encouragement just make him more desperate to get the money to get her back in school. And there is a troubling lump on his back that he is not prepared to confront until he

But what he has to sell is an elaborate hologram-based conference call system to the king of Saudi Arabia. Even with his advance team in place he discovers that the set-up is not what he expected. The extensive business and university complex he is hoping to service is not yet built beyond one huge office building. The advance team has been relegated to a tent with no food or wi-fi. And the king is not there and no one knows when he will be there or if he will ever be there.

Alan is so jet-lagged he keeps oversleeping and missing the shuttle, and so he gets transported back and forth day after day of pointless frustration by a genial “driver, guide, hero” named Yousef (Alexander Black). He tries everything he can think of to make progress but is always met with polite deferrals. Drunk one night, he tries to dig out the lump on his back himself and ends up in the hospital, where he is treated by a woman doctor named Zahra (Sarita Choudhury).

Metaphors usually work better in books than in films, and the effort to translate Eggers’ commentary on geopolitical and capitalistic forces like outsourcing is not always successful. But Hanks is ideal as the decent guy trying to do the best for everyone, with a long-practiced salesman’s ability to project good cheer and quiet competence. Director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) brings a lot of vitality to the story, beginning with a captivating version of Hanks performing the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime.” Choudhury is a warm, wise presence as the doctor trying to be true to herself despite the restrictions of the culture. Whether or not Alan makes the sale, he sells us on the value of trying to make things work.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, some disturbing images and health issues, drinking and drunkenness, sexual references and situations, and nudity.

Family discussion: What should Alan have done at Schwinn? What qualities made him good at his job?

If you like this, try: “Up in the Air”

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