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Alan (Tom Hanks) and his doctor turned love interest, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), share a quiet moment in the comedy/drama, A Hologram for the King.

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Alan (Tom Hanks) and his doctor turned love interest, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), share a quiet moment in the comedy/drama, A Hologram for the King. (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate )

Tom Hanks Weathers the Desert in A Hologram for the King

Published May 05, 2016 • Last Updated 04:33 pm, May 03, 2016

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Rated R

Tom Hanks doesn’t have to stretch very much playing a middle-aged man who infuses his personal crisis with humor in his latest effort, A Hologram for the King, based on the Dave Eggers book. Director/writer Tom Tykwer has worked with Hanks before in Cloud Atlas, and knows his virtuosity and ability to make an audience cheer for and laugh with him. Hanks takes on a less serious role than his recent Bridge of Spies, but he travels once again, this time to Saudi Arabia when his character, salesman Alan Clay, must pitch a holographic meeting system to the king. The film was actually shot in Morocco, because of visa problems in Saudi Arabia, but the desert there is just as vast, providing a perfect metaphor for Alan feeling lost and empty.

Alan’s planned trajectory for his life explodes, as he shouts to the audience at the beginning. In a set-up for the quirky narrative, his house and ex-wife burst into purple puffs and he imagines himself descending on a bumpy roller coaster ride. During his mission to Saudi Arabia, he is a stranger in a strange land, and life becomes more complicated than trying to pay for his daughter’s education.

Hank’s comic savvy emerges when Alan’s interior life clashes with his sales façade. In one telling scene in which he enters a large, empty tent with only three support people, Hanks looks dismayed and defeated, and then he walks toward them, rolling out his smile and “can do” attitude. His swift transition clarifies Alan’s character.

The strongest comic moments occur between Alan and his driver, Yousef, played by newcomer Alexander Black. Black hasn’t had much exposure, appearing in a short film, Tim, and on TV’s Far from Happy, but that is about to change. Hanks and Black bounce lines off one another and Black often steals the scene with his easy manner. Yousef humorously educates his passenger on local customs, but also discloses the real danger if Alan takes a misstep, and he does, too naively, at times. Alan jokes with a Saudi stranger that he is C.I.A. Is he that stupid or is it lazy writing?

Time takes on a different meaning in another culture. The king is always somewhere else, as is Alan’s project liaison. Alan rides into the desert every day to the site only to be met with obstacles, so he takes side trips, once when a troublesome lump on his back requires attention. He meets a woman doctor facing her own restrictions within her society. Life happens while he’s waiting for the king. Sarita Choudhury (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, TV’s Blindspot) masterfully plays the restrained Zahra, who quietly circumvents the constraints and initiates intimacy with Alan in a beautiful underwater sequence that acts as another metaphor for having to hide certain actions.

The surprises that greet Alan change his life and keep the viewer guessing about his journey’s direction. When the king finally arrives and the barren tent is transformed into a kind of temple, Alan’s presentation unfolds smoothly. But will he make the sale? He doesn’t want to leave Zahra now, so how will they work out their differences?

Hologram ends in a too-neat package. All questions tie up, but some are not necessarily plausible. Zahra’s strength and willingness to work under the radar are keys to making the resolution more believable and Alan’s new path optimistic.


Wanted: Your Opinion (In 10 Words or Fewer)

We’re always looking for the community’s input—and now we’re offering you a chance to share your opinion of the latest blockbusters, foreign films, indies, and romantic comedies to hit the big screen with your neighbors! Each week, we’ll print the best reader-submitted reviews in the Living section and online at Send your 10-word movie review to Living Editor Pem McNerney at along with your name and hometown and join the conversation!

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