A failed American businessman looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his idea to a wealthy monarch.
Going strictly by the synopsis of 'A Hologram for the King,' one might think they're in for a tediously boring film experience: "…a recently divorced businessman is sent overseas to pitch a state-of-the-art holographic teleconferencing system to the king [of Saudi Arabia]." I mean, that isn't a synopsis that jumps out and grabs you.
Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is a salesman, racked with guilt about his divorce, his inability to pay for his adult daughter's college, and business decisions he made in the past. He now finds himself in Saudi Arabia pitching a holographic conferencing system to the country's monarch, all the while trying not to completely lose it.
Alan's life is eating away at him. It's not as blatant as it was in Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa,' this is more like 'Anomalisa'-lite. The similarities are striking though. Alan finds himself immersed in mundane day-to-day tasks as his hotel in the city becomes something like a prison. A place that constantly repeats itself as he enters and exits it. Nothing ever changes. He says hi to the same desk clerk every day. He sleeps in every day. He drinks too much every night (even though drinking is forbidden in the country). He goes out to the presentation site day after day only to find the people he's supposed to meet aren't there and might not be there the next day. He's stuck in a seemingly endless business trip. Oh, and he has a mysterious lump growing out of the middle of his back.
Where 'Anomalisa' saw its main character Michael Stone spiral slowly into madness, 'A Hologram for the King' shows Alan approach madness, only to lift himself out with sheer will and determination.
What's so fun about this film is watching Hanks provide such an energetic performance. He alone makes the film much more engaging than it might be otherwise. He's a magnetic performer and he owns the screen here again.
Once Alan learns to embrace the culture and the people, he finds himself overcoming many of the doubts that have plagued him. It doesn't stop him from constantly worrying though. He worries about his daughter. He worries about the American workers he screwed over when he was an executive that moved jobs overseas at a past company. He worries about his health. He worries about making a deal. And, ultimately, he never lets it get to him.
Providing a fantastic supporting presence is Alexander Black as Alan's driver Yousef and Sarita Choudhury as Alan's doctor and love interest, Zahra.
The romance between Alan and Zahra feels genuine. Not too often do you see Hollywood films portraying sex scenes with an actor and actress exceeding 50 years of age. It's not often you see an older film star having sex with someone his own age. In this day and age of Hollywood older actors are being paired with younger and younger actresses. This doesn't feel phony. This feels real.
Hanks' performance is impressive and the people around him make it that much better. I was pleasantly surprised with what 'A Hologram for the King' had to offer.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release that comes with a 50GB Blu-ray and a code for a Digital Copy. There's a slipcover provided.
The 1080p presentation of 'A Hologram for the King' looks great, and it should since this is a recently produced film. The image is clean, clear and free from any embarrassing visual anomalies.
I was impressed with the way the visuals handled the large expanses of sand. It never appears like a large blob, rather sand has visible ripples in it. Dunes are nicely rendered. And the horizon is perfectly delineated from the light blue sky above.
Facial features are strong and detailed. Textures are lifelike, from the sand of the desert to the weave of Alan's sterile business suits. Black areas are nice and inky. There's some great underwater shots of coral reefs and fish that are startlingly clear, almost like they were filmed by the 'Planet Earth' nature team. As expected this is a very solid visual presentation for a recently filmed movie.
Lionsgate has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Sure, the film is front-heavy given its nature. There are, however, numerous times where the surround channels are given room to participate in the proceedings.
The city center is busy and the rear channels are usually bustling with noise. There are echoes that are captured nicely there too as Alan tours a vacant condo facility being built in the middle of a desert. There's also a party scene that features some great bass, and debauched action all around.
Dialogue is always clear. There are a few panning effects that work smoothly as sound is transferred from left to center to right and back again. For a talky film, there are quite a lot of areas here where the sound mix is able to show itself off.
From Novel to Screen: The Adaption of 'A Hologram for the King' (HD, 20 min.) – Director Tom Twyker and novelist Dave Eggers discuss bringing Eggers' novel to the big screen.
Perfecting the Culture: The Making of 'A Hologram for the King' (HD, 10 min.) – Production designer Uli Hanisch joins Twyker to discuss creating an authentic locale, and about reflecting the Saudi culture in the film.
'A Hologram for the King' is a surprising film that didn't come out with much fanfare, especially given Hanks was at the center of it. It's a subdued comedic drama about a man finding himself while immersed in a different culture. It sounds a bit cliché, but the way it's constructed gives it a freshness that's genuine. The video and audio are as good as you'd expect from a 2016 film. This one is recommended.