A Hologram for the King (3 stars)

A Hologram for the King

Tom Hanks is front and centre in a quirky Dave Eggers’ adaptation from Tom Tykwer

As openings go, A Hologram for the King’s is an arresting tone-setter. In a sweat-inducing dream sequence Tom Hanks emerges speak-singing to Talking Heads, asking that existential question, ‘How did I get here?’ Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Hanks previously pitched up in Cloud Atlas, the off-the-chain adaptation of David Mitchell’s time-spanning head-scratcher that was co-helmed by the writer-director of this film, Tom Tykwer, alongside the Wachowskis.

This, despite a hallucinogenic feel at times, is more grounded. Based on the 2012 Dave Eggers novel, Hanks plays Alan Clay, a failed businessman who has overseen the closing of factories back in the Mid West. Now he’s in Saudi Arabia, trying to set up a deal with the King regarding hologram-driven communications technology. Arriving in a half-built metropolis, where water and Wi-Fi are at a premium, he and his team must await the arrival of the monarch – and they wait and wait.

Amid this Groundhog Day-esque scenario, he encounters a sexually forward Danish colleague (Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen) and a more serene doctor (Sarita Choudhury), who attends to a large cyst on his back. If this rather grotesque protrusion is meant as a metaphor for Alan's own emotional blockages, it’s not one of the film’s well-realised elements. Much better is the strange, otherworldly atmosphere Tykwer conjures in this shimmering Middle Eastern paradise-to-be (the film was shot in Morocco, which doubles well).

While the female characters are sadly underwritten, notably Knudsen’s character, Hanks is on song in the title role as a divorcee and absent father whose journey across the film is all about seeing his priorities change. His transition, and the romance that blossoms in the final third, is more positive than the melancholic tone of Eggers’ book. But if you’re looking for an adult maturation story, told with real panache, you could do a whole lot worse.

General release from Fri 20 May.

A Hologram for the King

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • UK / France / German / US
  • 1h 38min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Tom Tykwer
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Side Babette Knudsen, Ben Whishaw, Sarita Choudhury
  • UK release: 20 May 2016

Alan Clay (Hanks) is a washed-up American businessman trying to set up an IT deal with the Saudi King. Based on Dave Eggers's 2012 novel; although the female roles are underwritten, Hanks is on song as the central character in a quirky adult maturation story told with real panache and atmosphere.