Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw and Tom Skerritt
(Movie House Cityside Preview Screening, Monday 16th May)
A failed American businessman looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his idea to a wealthy monarch.
LET me say right from the get go of this review that I’m a huge Tom Hanks fan, I’ve loved him from when I first saw him in films like Big, Splash and Turner and Hooch: I’ve watched him give fantastic Oscar-Winning performances in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump and more recently giving equally impressive performances in both Captain Philips and Bridge of Spies.
He’s the Cary Grant of my generation and an actor whose talent sometimes goes slightly underappreciated, but he’s capable of doing more onscreen with a mere facial expression or shrug of the shoulders than some actors can do with an entire page of dialogue: take the final moments of Captain Philips where he powerfully portrayed a man completely overawed by his horrendous ordeal without muttering a single word; or in Bridge of Spies where he gave quite possibility the most realistic performance of a man suffering from the horrors of the common cold: so let’s be clear I have a slight man-crush going on here.
It’s a shame then I just didn’t like this film at all; it’s to sickly sweet and never really goes anywhere; like Jean Marc Vallee’s feature Demolition, its attempt to showcase masculinity in crisis is severely hampered by a confuddled screenplay that feels compelled to give viewers the Wayne’s World ‘mega-happy’ style ending.
Hanks plays Alan Clay, a washed-up businessman and all-round American Joe, a role he could play in his sleep by now. His character is suffering with the onset of a mid-life crisis; he feels like a failure both professionally, personally and paternally. In a last ditch attempt to find his fortune the travels to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to sell advanced teleconferencing software to the Saudi government to prove his ex-wife wrong and make his daughter proud: cue formulaic fish out of water clichés, cultural misunderstandings and spiritual awakenings as Hanks’ character finds himself alone in a foreign country with only his problems for company.
There’s a much more interesting story lurking in the backdrop of the film’s unfolding drama, the Economic Global Recession and outsourcing of the American Dream are all hinted at, but never really explored with any confidence. Instead the film quickly descends into a formulaic run of the mill Rom-Com, as Alan develops a relationship with Sarita Choudhury’s character Zahra, a Saudi Arabian doctor Zahra who he meets during a hospital appointment; it’s all just to contrived and a little to Eat, Pray, Love for my likening as these two troubled souls find happiness together.
Hanks is without doubt the best thing about the film, he can play the American everyman better than anyone else and we’ve seen him play characters suffering with personal crises before, Larry Crowne and Joe vs the Volcano being two films that come instantly to mind: but this film adapted from Dave Eggers novel of the same name, just meanders through its runtime and we’re left with a film that pretty much just takes us for a long walk through the desert.
Maybe I’m just too young to fully appreciate the sentiment of this film, undoubtedly my own personal mid-life crisis will come to me soon enough and maybe then then my feelings towards films like this might change, but for now I just feel like it’s a poor man’s Lost in Translation. As Hanks opens the film with a bizarre rendition of The Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime, I feel a cover of Road to Nowhere might have been a more apt choice.