Tom Hanks Delivers in ‘A Hologram for the King’

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Average: 3 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Tom Hanks is using his golden years as a vehicle to stretch his performance skills, and his role as a sort of “Death of a Salesman” spin in “A Hologram for the King” gives him an opportunity to keep stretching. The stylish film floats within the focus on his character, and he delivers.

Based on a Dave Eggers novel, “A Hologram for the King” has a lot going on, as Hanks portrays a character with one last shot at making the sale in the oddball Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Director Tom Tykwer (“Cloud Atlas”) adds some European-style visuals to the story, and the whole things works because the blend is right. Hanks handles the path of the role through a nice progression, and uses his world weariness as an older actor effectively. The story peters out a bit towards the end, but in general the movie is entertaining, especially with the geniality of Hanks providing another exceptional performance.

Alan Gray (Hanks) is a older sales representative for a cutting edge computer technology – the ability to project holograms of distant people for meetings and other purposes. His team is called to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where he is to meet the King and demonstrate the product. He is feeling on his last gasp, and delays to the meeting allows him to focus on his problems, which includes his daughter Kit (Tracey Fairaway), a distant father (Tom Skerritt) and his lack of money.

Tom Hanks
Tom of Arabia: Hanks as Alan Gray in ‘A Hologram for the King’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

He also has a strange lump on his back, and is constantly tinkering with it. His driver Yousef (Alexander Black) is concerned, and takes him to a local hospital, where he is treated by Dr. Zahra (Sarita Choudhury). There is an attraction, and they begin a tentative affair. Meanwhile, the demonstration is on, and a hologram will be demonstrated for the King.

Director Tykwer is most famous for the cult classic “Run Lola Run,” and he has a sure hand for adding stylistic form to a straight forward narrative. He expressly uses the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime” to introduce Hank’s character, with a dreamscape that is mesmerizing. Hanks obviously had a good experience with the director on “Cloud Atlas,” and they do good work together.

The supporting cast had some good performances as well, especially Sarita Choudhury as the lady doctor of Saudi Arabia. The very strict culture has limits in the connection between the sexes, and the hoops that Alan and Zahra have to jump through to have a “date” was fascinating. Also, the “ugly American” element was emphasized, as Alan is tempted to do things he wouldn’t normally do, just because of the restrictions.

The “Americanism” of Egger’s novel was deftly translated to the film. Alan’s past includes the closing of Schwinn bicycles in American plants (he was part of the team that shipped manufacturing overseas, thus crushing the brand), and his guilt from that move permeates all the way to his new position. The bureaucracy and customs of the KSA are well on display as well, as his attempts to get things done are met with efficient indifference.

Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury
Star Crossed: Alan and Dr. Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) in ‘A Hologram for the King’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

The narrative runs out of steam in the last quarter of the film – after the fascinating date between the salesman and the doctor – and the ending is different from the book, which was less happy. However, the film is food for thought, mostly about the Arab world, the infiltration of the West within it, and the definition of “work” in the 21st Century. All this bleeds through any conventionality of form, and Hanks was ripe to deliver it.

Tom Hanks last five roles has been a spook (“Bridge of Spies”), an animator (“Saving Mr. Banks), a skipper (“Captain Phillips”), “Cloud Atlas” and only one role that would be considered his gee-whiz character (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”). May he continue to reign, with familiarity and whatever else he wants.

“A Hologram for the King” had a nationwide release on April 22nd. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babbett Knudsen, Tracey Fairaway and Tom Skerritt. Written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes. Directed by Liza Johnson. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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