Far away from the recession-weary USA, a struggling American businessman finds himself in an emerging Saudi city, making a grand effort to avoid bankruptcy, to pay his daughter's college fees and to finally accomplish something big.
Based on Dave Eggers’ novel of the same name, Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International) directs Tom Hanks in A Hologram For The King. The pair had previously teamed up on the ambitious Cloud Atlas and were both huge fans of Eggers’ work.
“I read A Hologram For The King in one sitting and my only question when I finished it was whether or not he (Eggers) wanted a movie made out of his book,” recalled an enthused Tom Hanks.
Tykwer agreed, saying. “It was the most contemporary novel I’d read in a very long time so I felt like it couldn’t wait: this story had to be made into a movie. It’s very much about now, yet it still it has the sense of a classic novel in that it’s a book for all times. I found that to be a brilliant mix so I turned into this very pushy machine trying to put the movie together as fast as I could.”
Tykwer was equally excited about partnering once again with Hanks. “Working with Tom is liberating for a filmmaker because he’s so open-minded to every moment and every situation,” Tykwer says. “He’s like a super-intelligent child who comes into a room and says, ‘Okay, what are our toys?’ And then, ‘Let’s explore what we can do with them!’ That’s super inspiring because when you come up with a new idea, he picks it up really greedily and does something with it in a wonderfully playful way.”
Adapting Eggers’ story for the big screen, Tykwer took advantage of Hanks’ inherent likeability by building out the comedy elements embedded in Alan Clay’s grim predicament. “The novel has a strange sense of humour, but it was standing next to a lot of profoundly melancholic and tragic moments,” Tykwer says.
Hanks elaborates. “At the start of the movie, Alan’s adrift, he’s divorced, his job at the Reliant Corporation is tenuous and he’s worried about maintaining a connection with his own daughter.”
Alan’s father, portrayed by Emmy-winning veteran Tom Skerrit, only compounds his distress by scolding his son on the phone about a career low point: the time he steered the once-mighty Schwinn Bicycle Company into bankruptcy after outsourcing hundreds of manufacturing jobs to China.
“It’s like Alan’s alone on an iceberg, or in the desert, as the case may be,” Hanks says. “You wonder if the guy has any friends, and on top of that, he’s got this boil on his back and at three o’clock in the morning, he’s absolutely convinced it’s going kill him just as slowly as his slow-melting iceberg of loneliness is going to disappear out from under him. Poor Alan’s in a tough, sad spot, but you’re able to laugh because we see this juxtaposition: he’s trying to make sense of this country at the same time he can’t even make sense of his own life.”
In his adaptation, Tykwer mined Alan’s predicament for laughs. “I decided to put most of my effort into making it work as a comedy,” he says. “Even though it’s a dark story about someone who’s in a really bad place, at the same time there’s something absurd about Alan’s situation. If you have Tom Hanks playing with all the potentials of that situation, the movie will be funny in a meaningful, complicated, but very fascinating way. That’s what I aimed for when I started the adaptation.”
Hanks was initially taken aback by Tykwer’s approach to the material. “When Tom Tykwer told me he thought the book was very funny, I was surprised that he would be amused by this painful, terrible fate that Alan Clay’s going through. I filed that away thinking we might come to loggerheads over it at some point. But when I read Tom’s screenplay, I saw that he had found the comedy in Alan’s outside observations as opposed to the great ‘sturm und drang’ that are going on inside his head."
Hanks gives yet another jewel of a performance, he make it look so effortless and as always is just so watchable in A Hologram For The King. Anybody who has been stranded in a farflung place, with a sense of estrangement will empathise with the emotions Alan Clay goes through. And you have Tom Hanks singing ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads - perfect!
A Hologram For The King opens at Showcase Cinemas May 20