A Hologram for the King

Thanks to Tom Hanks, A Hologram for the King has enough charm to make it worth seeing.

A Hologram for the KingFor obvious reasons, this was not a film that I was eager to see. Even though it stars Tom Hanks, it seemed more like a home movie that you are forced to watch with relatives.

Here, Hanks plays a businessman under a great deal of pressure who is sent to Saudi Arabia to convince the King to buy his company’s innovative IT product. In the process, Hanks’ character is left floating between a demanding employer in the States while waiting for the King to appear on an uncertain date.

On top of that, Hanks’ personal life is in shambles. The only thing that has survived his failed marriage is a relationship with a daughter. Other than communicating with her via Skype, Hanks is bored to death. To fight his frustrations, he ends each evening slamming down some booze supplied by a contact in violation of the Saudi ban on alcohol.

To make matters worse, Hanks also has a health problem relating to a large boil on his back, and he ends up in an unlikely relationship with a Saudi doctor named Zahra. Played by Sarita Choudhury, she has her own issues relating to a divorce proceeding. The attraction between the two is evident from the beginning, and it’s lack of sophistication makes it all the more charming.

Ironically, the strength of the film comes from Hanks’ relationship with a Saudi driver he accidentally employs. Alexander Black is quite funny as the Saudi driver Yousef, and there are some great moments when he and Hanks try to agree on what music is to be played on the car radio.

Having had Saudi students in our home for the past 12 years, I felt that I had to honor them by seeing this film. While I don’t know if they will like it, I know that one scene will leave them amused beyond words. As Hanks is being driven by Yousef, he notes numerous people working in the desert. Asking Yousef, “Do you have a union here in Saudi Arabia,” Yousef responds, “No, we import Philippinos.”

That line made the movie memorable.