I can tell which 50% of you will like “A Hologram for the King.” I can suggest the best way to ride an appreciative wave.
Tom Hanks is one of the best actors working in movies today. Tom Hanks is the best regular-type-guy actor working in movies today. He’s so good that you still think he’s a regular-type-guy when he plays “Forrest Gump,” the highest performing “stupid is as stupid does” person ever. You think he’s a regular-type-guy in “Philadelphia,” even though he plays a hotshot lawyer; even though he plays a gay guy dying of AIDS. For those two films, he’s a rare winner of back to back Oscars among his five Academy nominations.
Watching the acting class on Tom Hanks’s face is the way to like “A Hologram for the King.” It’s such a disorienting role. The character is at odds with his middle-aged life: after a humbling slide in his sales career; amidst crushing debt; with a daughter who still looks up to him after a deflating divorce.
That’s mostly backstory. The bigger disorientation is landing in a cultural quicksand hoping to sell fancy computer software to the King of Saudi Arabia. The character is at odds with the cultural norms, not the least being highly abnormal business protocols in the royal realm. A time funk ticks in this comedy setting (with a dash of romance poised to fill a vacuum).
Many will think that “A Hologram for the King” doesn’t have its act together. In fairness to the filmmaking decisions, if you’re saying “Whuhhh?” you’re feeling the disorientation that is fundamental to this story.
Back to Tom Hanks. Besides his likable, regular guy foundation, people are accustomed to his comforting brand that manages to make things work, to make things right. If you feel Tom Hanks doesn’t fit in this Middle Eastern desert, if you feel Tom Hanks is at sea in this dry story, “A Hologram for the King” won’t work for you. However, if you feel, hey, it’s Tom Hanks, and he pulled this off. There’s your satisfying trip to the movies.