First Hit: Although, it is a typical fish out of water story, the acting is wonderful which elevates this film to very good.
The opening sequence is amusing and pointed. To the background music of The Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”; Alan (Tom Hanks) is walking through a set with his shack, house, car and wife all blowing up in sequence with the song - ending with him looking up at the camera saying “How did I get here?” Then we find Alan sitting on a plane full of Muslims, a prayer session begins with a cleric leading them using the flight attendant’s microphone.
This opening gives the audience the sense that we are going for a ride. Alan is going through a divorce, he’s made a couple business mistakes, needs money to keep his daughter Kit (Tracey Fairaway) in college; he feels like a failure. So he’s off to sell the King of Saudi Arabia on a holographic meeting system.
He’s full of anxiety, his boss keeps the pressure on with daily phone calls and he has a lump on his back that worries him. Each day he gets up and has missed the shuttle bus to the technology center, an hour or so outside the city where he and his team is staying. However, I kept wondering why his team didn't collect him in the morning for the shuttle?
Anyway, this plot device gives him the opportunity to call a driver/guide. Yousef (Alexander Black) likes to talk when he drives while listening to 1970's hits on his tape system. They get along great and it is in the car we begin to see the stress Alan is going through.
Watching Alan slide downhill like this is hard, and Hanks pulls this off with aplomb. But when he needs to be on, he’s ready with a strong sales pitch backed by a smile and an easy way to befriend people. Every day he’s told his contact will meet him the next day, but the day arrives and he’s told "this will not be possible."
His fluctuation between patience and impatience is perfect and when he does get the meetings done, he and his team are ready. But this is only part of the story, through a set of circumstances, he ends up meeting a Zahara (Sarita Choudhury) a doctor who both helps him with his building anxiety as well as diagnosing the lump. This story is about taking a chance on a new beginning.
Hanks is typically strong in this role as a lost man. He’s able to make his circumstance and steps he takes believable. Tracey Fairaway is wonderful as the daughter who looks up to her dad as well as seeing the pain and stress of what he’s going through. Choudhury is very strong as the woman Muslim doctor. Her dance between the rules of her culture and her feelings was marvelous. Black is comically perfect as the driver who also dances between both worlds; his Saudi roots and his western exposure. Tom Tykwer wrote and directed this film. The dialogue was strong as were many of the scenes, especially with Hanks in the hotel room.
Overall: This was a solid feel good film.