A Hologram For The King features Tom Hanks as Alan, a sales executive whose career is on a downwards spiral. His marriage is already dead and buried, although he remains close to his daughter who he cannot afford to send to college.
He is sent to Saudi Arabia to head a sales pitch to the King for a state-of-the-art hologram telecommunications system. His job (and consequently his daughter’s college education) depend on his success, but the King’s chronic absence is an indication of problems to come.
Watching a lot of movies is a two-edged sword. On the whole, I love ‘em (it would be silly to watch so many if I didn’t) but it does mean that you get a bit jaded at the familiar: the average movie doesn’t hold too many surprises.
Enter A Hologram For The King, a film where I genuinely had no idea where it was headed for much of the time, and I confess that this aspect pleased me. So did the striking appearances of the places where it was filmed. And Hanks’ customary geniality tends to make films relatively easy to sit through. These all have to be listed on the “plus” side.
Unfortunately there are some strong entries in the minus column, the main one of which is that the story is an incoherent directionless mess. The reason why I never knew where the story was going was that the story itself didn’t know where it was going either, which is why a number of elements which you assume are going to be plot threads end up going nowhere very much.
The side trip to the comedy driver’s home and the run in with the menacing terrorist-type? Goes nowhere. The saucy encounter with the Scandinavian lady? Goes nowhere. The running gag with the chairs? Goes nowhere. The rough stuff witnessed in the partly-built apartment block? Goes nowhere. You get the picture.
You end up with a portrait of a man whose life is an unstructured mess, which is perhaps why it is reflected that way in the film (and possibly this is intended to be a reflection of how random real life can be).
The final section of the movie, which spins out of hospital treatment for a growth on Alan’s back, is even more unexpected than what has come before, and feels nailed on rather than organic.
I felt that this was a Mystery Tour of a movie – there are things to enjoy en route to a mystery destination but, when you arrive, be prepared to say “Oh. Is that it?” as nothing on the journey prepares you for the inconsequentiality of where you have arrived at.