A Hologram for the King

A new film from Tom Tykwer sees Tom Hanks stranded in the Saudi-Arabian desert

BY Bert Rebhandl in Culture Digest | 04 MAY 16

A Hologram for the King, 2016. Courtesy: Roadside Attractions

Tom Hanks has so much become 'everybody’s guy' that I can’t believe he's not yet 'nobody’s business'. Just look at Bridge of Spies (2015), which should have really been titled Blokes of Honour. Steven Spielberg has piled so much integrity on Hanks’s mulishly indefatiguable body that the scene at the end, when the spy crashes on his matrimonial bed to have the power nap of his lifetime, appears to transcend storyline and character. Give me a break, it said. No more Mr Nice Guy (please?). Yet Hanks is not finished yet. After Spielberg came the local Spielbergs, the upcoming Spielbergs, the international ambitionists who’d like to recreate this particular brand of ‘issue movie’ that Hanks has so often had to star in (he was good in Philadelphia [1993], though).

Tom Tykwer has solidly established himself as a young Spielberg for this well-endowed type of international co-productionalism that basically milks state funds on a global scale. A Hologram for the King is a book adaptation, based on the novel by Dave Eggers. An American salesman goes to Saudi-Arabia to pitch a digital product which should have been inspired by Aladdin’s lamp. The alien country is a cultural trap, but this guy (Alan) is hanging in there, even if the WiFi in his business tent keeps deserting him. Tykwer likes the story for its tacky surrealism, and he indulges in it. Tom Hanks is the fool in the dunes, but he gets a nice bath in the end, and even romance. When was the last time anyone thought of putting Hanks in a sex scene? That must have been Philadelphia, again. But then Saudi-Arabia is so strait-laced that even Everyman has an edge.

Bert Rebhandl is a journalist, writer and translator who lives in Berlin. He co-founded and co-edits Cargo magazine.