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Based on the Novel by Dave Eggers. A failed businessman moves to Saudi Arabia to evade bankruptcy.

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A Hologram for the King movie full length review - From realistic to the surreal (slightly)

There is nothing that you have not seen in this movie and yet it manages to give you a small sense of surreal. The exotic (a dwindling concept as the world is so much smaller these days) setting in the Middle East may be a reason.

However, the opulent familiarity of Dubai cannot do that. But then, this movie is not set in Dubai. Rather, it is some desert coast of Saudi Arabia in the middle of nowhere. This land is going to become an entirely designed city with an ideal population of 1.5 million. But it has to be built first and part of the infrastructure is, it goes without saying, IT. The protagonist, sort of an American Everyman called Alan, (Tom Hanks) is there with his company's sales pitch, to be highlighted in a presentation of a hologram tele-conference, hence the title.

While the "KMET" (King's Metropolis of Economy and Trade) that spearheads this new development is a modern, if not completely state-of-the-art office complex, the "office" Alan and his three staff has been given is a sloppy tent "temporarily" without air-condition and Wifi. The King who is the target audience is more elusive that Godot. Even his minion designated to liaise with Alan is an expert in playing hide-and-seek.

Recalling a little of Bill Murray's character in "Lost in translation" (but with less depth), Alan's sojourning in Saudi Arabia, stranger-in-a-strange-land fashion, does capture the audience's interest because of two interesting encounters.

The first is the daily rides in a rented automobile Alan refers to as "this thing" owned and driven by Yousef (an excellent Alexander Black) who is quite comfortable with American culture, even goofily so. The bantering of the duo is familiar and enjoyable comedy. This culminated into Alan being invited to Yousef's home village, with a night adventure of hunting wolves to boot. Nothing much really happened but you may recall with a smile Humphry Bogart's immortal concluding line in "Casablanca": I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

The other fills in the romantic content, not absolutely mandatory in every movie, but usually good-to-have. It starts as a purely professional encounter in which Doctor Zahra (a very good Sarita Choudhury) operates on a benign (but threatening to turn malignant if ignored) lump of Alan's back. As these are two people both suffering from a failed marriage, there is really nothing unusual about the ensuing romantic turn of events.

Some elaboration on my summary line and I am done. I shall illustrate this with two separate scenes.

During the visit to Yousef's village, Alan wanders off to capture the scenery with a camera, comes across a chatty local who speaks English, carries on a friendly conversation with him and end up doing the wrong thing. When asked if he is CIA, Alan attempts a wise crack, something like "Not full time, just moonlighting". Word spreads around like wildfire and Alan finds himself confronted by a hostile gathering of villagers. Movie makers may be tempted to devise an outlandish way for Alan to get out of this mess. Not these ones making "Hologram". Alan simply asks Yousef to appeal to the common sense of the people, asking them if a CIA agent would walk around admitting that to everybody. That works; bomb diffused, so to speak. How realistic can you get?

As to the surreal, I have said that the romance is quite ordinary. The flirting via email, a post-script to the doctor-patient relationship, is quite nicely done but has nothing surrealistic about it. The consummation, however, is arrived at through a somewhat surreal sequence. At Zahra's luxury seaside resident to which Alan has been invited, after some small talks over nice drinks, the charming host suddenly declares "It's swim time". In borrowed trunks and goggles, Alan is ushered into an underwater paradise by his host, who says "I'll join you soon". When she appears later behind him, she cautions "I am dressed exactly like you, so that if neighbors spot us at a distance, they will think that it is two men swimming". In the ensuing mesmerizing, surrealistic underwater shots, she is anything but "exactly like him".