2016.79: A Hologram For The King (Amazon VOD)
A Hologram For The King is a midlife crisis story, and your mileage for it might depend on your affinity for Tom Hanks and feel-good endings. I really enjoyed it, which rather surprised the old cynic in me. Part of it is likely down to the casting of Tom Hanks- his onscreen persona, defined over so many years now, leads you to have an instant liking for any character he plays in a film (I still say he’d make the most shocking and great Bond villain someday). You are almost predisposed to root for his character in this film from the very start.
The start, too, features the films highlight- a sequence in which Tom Hanks’ character, American salesman Alan Clay, appears in a mock-pop video singing Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, the visuals and lyrics succinctly summarising his characters midlife crisis. Its unfortunate the film never surpasses that arresting first sequence.
A middle-aged failing businessman, recently divorced and unable to pay for his daughters college fees, Clay is in the figurative Last Chance Saloon on a business trip to Saudi Arabia to sell his bosses IT project (involving the holograms of the title) to the king. Naturally the film is about the crises he faces (amongst other things, he has a nasty lump in his back which may prove cancerous) and the strange characters and situations he encounters in this foreign land, while reminiscing about his own life and failures. “Do you ever feel you might have done it differently?” he asks himself and others. His doubts are reinforced by his own fathers rather scathing opinion of him ( a great, if rather brutally short, cameo from Tom Skerritt), and there is a sense that the failing here is not just of Clay but of the American Dream itself, with the American Empire suffering from Globalisation and the transfer of Economic power and wealth to Asia and the East. There is a sense of a Changing Of The Guard, of a transient world, and Clay is a little figure caught in it, as are we all.
So its very much a film of its time. Its interesting though to compare it to The Swimmer, in which Burt Lancaster’s Ned Merrill has suffered his own midlife meltdown following a divorce and subsequent career failure. The Swimmer is a much darker and fulfilling affair, lacking any real redemption for its protagonist. A Hologram For The King in comparison feels much more lightweight and rather suffers for having a happy ending almost out of left-field, in the form of a romance with his doctor and a fresh career opportunity in Saudi. A Hologram For The King gets away with it because, well, we all root for Tom, he’s a nice guy after all, and the film is, well, always lightweight and fairly comic.But its a vindication for Clay that feels a little too Hollywood, knowing how grimly some people suffer on the wrong end of the American Dream. A Hologram For The King feels fluffy, whereas The Swimmer feels ‘real’, with something genuine to say about the 1960s America it was made in. I’m not sure, ultimately, what A Hologram For The King is really saying or how that will resonate over the decades, but it is pleasant enough and is carried by Hank’s genuine charm.