Let's get one thing straight here: everyone in Hollywood has some sort of popular limitation where people will not watch a film that actor does. EVERYONE. Take Tom Hanks for instance. People just won't flock to the roles where he plays a normal guy. They go to the normal guy roles where there is optimism or magic involved near the end, like Apollo 13 or something. But they're missing out on some fascinating work in the process.
Take A Hologram for the King, for instance. Based on the Dave Eggers novel, Hanks is reunited with Tom Tkywer (Cloud Atlas) in a project that tells the story of Alan Clay (Hanks), a salesman with an idea for IT videoconferencing that he wishes to pitch to the Saudi royal government. The contract proves to be a lucrative one, and Alan mulls the windfall it could bring him and his family while recalling some of the missteps that have gotten him to where he is, in Saudi Arabia at that particular moment.
The first, easiest comparison one could leap to when it comes to A Hologram for the King is Lost in Translation. Both having aging Americans in a land where they don't speak the language or know the culture, and have to compensate in other ways as a result. King finds Alan putting his head down and trying to find a way to get this desired meeting, but after awhile, he accepts that the meeting with the King will happen whenever it happens, and that he will try to deal with the delay however he can. He is helped in this regard by Yousef (Alexander Black), who serves as Alan's driver for a good deal of his adventures. Black's performance is better than was anticipated, though hardly distinguishing.
Hanks' performance in the film is a pleasant surprise as well. There are still requisite moments where we get to the fish out of water, and you can't help at how Alan handles them. But as the film goes on, A Hologram for the King is less a title that describes the story, and more a title for how Alan sees this job. Shunned by his wife and father, the only source of vitality he has is with emails to his daughter. However, as Alan becomes more reflective about something that happens to him during the movie, the depth that Hanks has shown in past performances shines through in Alan. Alan develops a relationship with Zahra (Sarita Choudhury, Lady in the Water) over the latter half of the movie, and her life situation is somewhat familiar to his, and his identification to and relationship with Zahra starts out a little clunky, and you'll see that the way this unfolds looks a lot like You've Got Mail. But their connection proves to be intriguing and resonant, and while it made me want to see how the rest of it unfold, I was happy with the point it stopped at.
I did not love A Hologram to the King with quite the same gusto that I would with any of Hanks' other signature works that have given him trophies and millions of admirers. However, I firmly think that this performance has as much nuance and emotional substance as any of Hanks' award-winning works and now that it's come to video it deserves, nay requires, a second view.The Blu-ray:
Presented in 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen, Lionsgate gives A Hologram to the King a good presentation on Blu-ray. The browns and reds in the sand sure does look nice and well-detailed, as do the browns, reds and golds when the royal family starts appearing. The whites in hospital clothes or lighting look natural and not blown out, and the image detail in Hanks' face and hair is abundant, just as it is in clothing or in the wood grains of a door. It's a really nice disc to look at.The Sound:
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio for the film and it's good when called upon. The big moment is gets a time to shine is during a quiet party hosted by some Danes, and the crowd noise is all around in front and rear channels, accompanied by pulsating bass. In a quieter moment when Alan is taking pictures in the desert and a Saudi man drives up in a Toyota, the rumble of the motor is distinct, just as the silence of underwater near the end of the film. Solid technical work by Lionsgate on this disc.The Extras:
On the surface, not a lot to speak of, but when you start to watch these three extras, they aren't bad. The making of featurette (19:56) features Tykwer's first thoughts on the book and Eggers discusses his inspiration for it. The cast share their thought on the script and on how Tykwer works, and Hanks gets into some discussion on the character. Ample amounts of outtakes and on-set footage is included, and the production challenges for the film are recalled. It turns out to be a better piece than I expected. "From Novel to Screen" (11:53) touches on the adaptation process, while Eggers talked about his collaboration with Tykwer, and how they got together for this work. Eggers also gets into his process in general and specifically for this work. "Perfecting the Culture" (10:14) talks about shooting in Morocco and the desire to get things right.Final Thoughts:
I'll listen to any discussion that besmirches A Hologram for the King, but honestly at the end of the day it won't shake my belief that this one of his better, most consistent performances in some time, and may warrant conversation in an even higher level discussion. Technically, the disc is good, and the bonus materials are a little better than expected. I think at this point, Tom Hanks films are generally worth taking a chance on, and I think people will be quite surprised at this if given the opportunity.