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A Hologram for the King uneven in tone but Tom Hanks' best in years says CBC's Eli Glasner

With a trailer that promises a romantic plot involving Tom Hanks in an exotic setting, A Hologram for the King may seem like Lawrence of Arabia meets You've Got Mail. But this movie from the director of Run Lola Run — based on a novel by Dave Eggers — has more to offer.

First, we have the film's excellent use of Hanks, who does "befuddled" better than anyone. He plays Alan, a divorced salesman on the verge of a tailspin. He's sent to Saudi Arabia to sell a high-tech conferencing system to the king.

There's only one problem: the king isn't around. Running up against postponed meetings and endless layers of bureaucracy, Alan begins questioning his purpose. Soon the jet lag and a growing lump on his spine sends him into a dangerous downward spiral. 

Film Tribeca Tom Hanks

At its best, A Hologram for a King is a collaboration between an inventive filmmaker and an established actor (Tom Hanks) finally getting a role worthy of his talents — think Willy Loman with a Buster Keaton streak of melancholy. (Siffedine Elamine/Roadside Attractions/Associated Press)

Hologram comes off as an existential comedy, one unsure of the right tone to adopt.

If you're looking for a reality check on Saudi Arabia, this isn't it. The issue of immigrants working in slave labour conditions merits just a brief mention and, frankly, the light tone director Tom Tykwer is striving towards sometimes clashes with the repressive setting. 

What comes through, however, is the surreal nature of the desert kingdom: a place of wide open vistas, decadent luxury and stifling restrictions. 

At its best, A Hologram For the King is a film about reinvention. It's also a collaboration between an inventive filmmaker and an established actor finally getting a role worthy of his talents — think Willy Loman with a Buster Keaton streak of melancholy.  

Film Tribeca Tom Hanks

Alexander Black, left, and Tom Hanks appear in A Hologram for the King. (Frederic Batier/Roadside Attractions/Associated Press)

Besides erasing Hank's Larry Crowne from memory, A Hologram for the King offers a few other rewards as well. 

Alan's driver and lackadaisical guide Yousef (Alexander Black) is a welcome discovery, but it's the appearance of Sarita Choudhury as the doctor Zahra that gives the story a true purpose. In this muddled desert farce, a refreshingly adult relationship blossoms. The delicate, hesitant way Alan and Zahra approach each other is the kind of sophisticated treatment we don't see enough of in today's movies.

Then, like a mirage, it's over — just as the story seems to be truly beginning. 

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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