It's movies like A Hologram for the King that remind me what a great actor Tom Hanks really is. He's had more than his share of blockbusters, classics, Oscar winners and personal creative projects. But to really appreciate what he brings to the table, sometimes you need to look at the movies which don't get much attention, where he almost single-handedly makes them worth watching.
A Hologram for the King is one of those...a seemingly slight, episodic tale of a once-great corporate salesman during a transitional point in his life. Hanks is nearly the whole show as Alan Clay. Recently - and acrimoniously - divorced, Clay is an unhappy man forced to put on a congenial facade for those around him, including his 21-year-old daughter, whom he thinks he's failed as a father. His professional life is in shambles as well, and a trip with his team to travel to Saudi Arabia to pitch a holographic communication system to the king appears to be his last chance at redemption.
Numerous complications hamper and delay his plans for the presentation, leaving Clay a lot of time to re-examine his life and values after developing friendships with local driver-for-hire Yousef (Alexander Black) and a female doctor, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), the latter of whom he meets when a cystic lump on his back starts to concern him. It's in these scenes where Clay lets his guard down, drops the facade and dares to step out of his personal and professional comfort zone.
|"See? There's Waldo."|
Black and Choudhury are great in their roles, but it's ultimately Hanks who totally engages us with a character who slowly reveals (sometimes wordlessly) that there's quite a bit more at stake than simply clinching the deal. By the end of the film (which ends wonderfully), we feel like we really know Alan Clay and what makes him tick, giving us a personal investment in whether or not he can solve his personal and professional problems.
In theaters, A Hologram for the King came and went virtually unnoticed, one of Hanks' biggest box office failures. It's kind of a shame, really, because it features him doing what he arguably does best...not a symbol, stoic figure or moral compass...just a flawed individual not-unlike ourselves at a particular stage in life. That alone makes the film worth checking out.
Featurettes: "The Making of 'A Hologram for the King'"; "From Novel to Screen: The Adaptation of 'A Hologram for the King'"; "Perfecting the Culture"
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS