By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Tom Hanks has been on a bit of a cold streak lately, seemingly ever since losing out on what looked like twin gimme Oscar nominations and even potential wins for Captain Phillips and the godawful, seemingly godawfully Oscar-friendly Saving Mr. Banks. Since then, he’s also missed for a Steven Spielberg flick of all things, did another terrible Dan Brown movie, and starred in Ithaca, Meg Ryan’s directorial debut that I had never heard of before this very second. 2016’s looking quite a bit better, though, with what has to be a can’t miss prospect with Sully.
Hanks released another flick this year, though, which I’ll also tally in the win column, even if it’s his lowest-grossing film since the year I was born. In A Hologram for the King, he plays a washed-up salesman sent to Saudi Arabia to head up a demo team tasked with selling hologram teleconferencing technology to the King of the country as a part of a huge economic development.
The film kicks off with a musical sequence of all things, set to the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”, as Hanks lip-syncs to the song as his formerly idyllic American lifestyle literally goes up in purple puffs of smoke behind him. It’s striking, evocative, and sets the stage well for both his character’s depressing circumstances and the Hanksian existential humor that propels him forward.
What follows doesn’t continue quite in that key, but its pleasant rhythms, maybe mostly due to Hanks, as calming and comfortable a presence as there is in film, are perfectly enjoyable, and the film’s kooky off-the-cuff, often dark, sense of humor is consistently amusing, with Alexander Black’s raconteur guide/driver a comic highlight.
Director Tom Twyker takes full advantage of the exotic surroundings, the absurdity of the mostly barren economic development zone with its no-expenses-spared headquarters building Hanks and his team aren’t really allowed in, and engineers other irony-packed global trade tableaus with aplomb, like the office building with fast food advertising that will never come at the first level, slick non-functioning elevators, Indonesian workers sweating and fighting with no clear purpose or direction at the next level, and finally a perfectly decorated modern office occupied by a Westernized man of the world at the top. While the film’s wrapped in the clothes of a self-actualization tale, Twyker clearly intends for it to be as much a story of the absurdities and despair that fuels the machines that make the world economy go ’round.
There are more fantasy sequences after that first, which are visually dynamic, but oddly incorporated. Twyker’s probably been hanging out with Wachowskis too much, but hasn’t entirely lost impulse control just yet, anyway.
This cost $210 million dollars. Remember that.
Hanks’ romance with the radiant Sarita Choudhury was also well-deployed but admittedly very sudden. It could have used a bit more build-up.
A Hologram for the King is a magical realist mid-life crisis tale which works a lot better than it sounds thanks to the incomparable Tom Hanks.
A Hologram for the King (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Sip: whenever we see that skin-crawling bump on the back
Take a Drink: for bureaucratic run-around
Take a Drink: for Tom Hanks trying and mostly succeeding in putting on a brave face
Take a Drink: for depressing flashbacks
Take a Drink: for classic rock cuts
Do a Shot: whenever Hanks breaks a chair