MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady


A Hologram for the King is an experimental film, albeit with considerable assets. All the elements one might want are present even if the equation hasn’t properly been worked out.

Its tone swings from sweet to sour with whimsy, dark foreboding, pratfalls and even dashes of surreal. Based upon David Eggers’ book of the same name, the movie confronts a changing worldwith more gusto than clarity, through the eyes of a latterday Willy Loman in a mid-life crisis.

Director-screenwriter Tom Tykwer’s film is ambitious, visually dynamic and has narrative density. What’s daunting is a jaunty giddiness that belies the gravitas not that much below the surface. Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) has been sent to Saudi Arabia by an American tech company to sell its teleconferencing system to the Kingdom. In flashback we learn that he’s divorced, financially strapped and haunted by business decisions made when he was a Schwinn executive. And if that weren’t enough, he also has a cyst on his back that might be malignant. Alan lives a life of quiet desperation that he navigates with an easy smile and an outwardly buoyant personality.

But he’s walked into a society uniquely alien to anything he’s confronted in the past. Cinematographer Frank Griebe (“Run Lola Run,” “Cloud Atlas”) captures vast, arid landscapes in all its natural beauty, juxtaposed with towering modern edifices. The ultra-wealthy and powerful live isolated from a nation in abject poverty and rife with 15th century conditions.

The struggle to acclimate the contemporary with the traditional is the thread that loosely binds A Hologram for the King. Its personification is Yousef (Alexander Black), a savvy driver-for-hire, who spent a year at an American college. He’s smarter than his station but the opportunities to break out of his tribal roots are virtually unthinkable. Still, he’s more forthright and direct than the suspicious and narcissistic officials Alan encounters as he tries to set up a demonstration of his product for the people that matter.

Tykwer, a filmmaker bent on challenging an audience, thwarts expectations with aa circuitous approach to the story. At first, his thefilm unfolds as little more than a first-class travelogue despite the irony that it was actually filmed in Morocco. When the demo of the system finally takes place Tykwer demonstrates his full, flamboyant visual prowess yet it remains an isolated moment. There’s also a late-breaking romance with a local doctor (Sarita Choudhury) that feels contrived. It allows for a clean, optimistic resolution when the appropriate turn would be for a pensive fade-out.

Hanks valiantly attempts to keep all the balls in the air and largely succeeds. He’s evolved into the acting equivalent of Walter Cronkite: the voice you trust. It would have been easy to have Alan Clay wink at the audience but Hanks accepts the character’s ingratiating personality, his crippling blindness and an American go-getter approach that’s decidedly outré and naive.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon