Cultures collide when an American businessman named Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is sent to Saudi Arabia to close what he hopes will be the deal of a lifetime. His mission: sell a state-of-the-art holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. Baffled by local customs and stymied by an opaque bureaucracy, he eventually finds his footing with the help of a wise-cracking taxi driver named Yousef (Alexander Black) and a beautiful Saudi doctor named Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury).
I’m not afraid to say this but Tom Hanks is one of my most favorite actors, if not my favorite actor ever. I’m not quite sure how to explain it but there’s just something about him that makes him so likeable. Regardless of the type of film he’s in, he just elevates the roles he plays and often the films in which he appears. He just makes the characters he plays so compelling that you can’t take your eyes off of him (at least in my opinion). I can’t think of a Tom Hanks film that I didn’t like (okay, I didn’t like The Da Vinci Code but that wasn’t his fault). So when I hear about any new Tom Hanks film, I’m there. This new film is based on book but I never let the fact that I’ve never read (thus my review will be based on this) it or even heard about it stop me.
Here he plays a businessman named Alan Clay who is sent to Saudi Arabia in order to sell sell a state-of-the-art holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. This task may not be as easy as it seems as Clay must deal with local customs as well as its bureaucracy thus things do not exactly go as planned for him and his team. Meanwhile Clay must face issues involving his own family at home as well as just trying to find himself at an older stage of his life. He eventually finds himself with the help of an eccentric taxi driver named Yousef (Black) and a beautiful Saudi doctor named Zahra Hakem (Choudhury).
So there have been many fish-out-of-water type films where one character travels to a completely different environment with varying results. It all depends on how likeable and/or relatable the character is so to make their experiences feel real and believable. This was the case here as I cannot think of anyone who would stick out more within Saudi Arabia than Hanks. The everyman persona in which he embodies was very prevalent here as it was easy to relate to Clay’s initial struggles upon arriving in this new land. This was just very compelling to watch as Hanks brought charm and comedy (sometimes subtle) to the role. The film probably could have gone further with this but I didn’t mind. The film was more about Clay than where he was.
The majority of the film consisted of Clay and his team waiting for the king of Saudi Arabia to show up for a meeting which could have made this film dull but instead, there’s still a lot going on here. Until that moment, Clay had to deal with the Saudi way of doing business which was often cause for frustration. What made this fun to watch was Hanks’ immense relatability where you can’t help but to feel along with him. He also spends a lot of time with a wise-cracking taxi driver named Yousef. He did have some funny moments which were mostly derived for his love of old American rock music and his own relationship issues. While his character could have gone the way of cliche (part of it was), there was actually a story to him which made him a little interesting. Once Clay finds a cyst on his back, he then meets a female doctor named Zahra Hakem with whom he develops a relationship. More on that later.
This is not an overly long film, clocking in at 97 minutes. Because of this, it never really explored anything too profoundly as we just followed Clay the entire film and the story was told from his perspective. Even at 97 minutes, the running time is still generous as the last third of the film which dove into Clay’s relationship with Hakem. This relationship felt a little forced to me as I found it developed a little too quickly. This made this section feel a little disconnected from the rest of the film.
Overall, this is still a good story with interesting characters in an uncommon setting elevated by Hanks’ performance.
*Synopsis and pictures courtesy of eOne Films Canada*