Saturday, 31 March 2012
FILM REVIEW: SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
In terms of great Quixotic follies committed in films -- floating a glass church down river, or building an opera house in the South American jungle -- introducing a species of cold water fish to the deserts of Yemen doesn't seem all that ambitious or dramatic. But it sure is expensive.
About 50 million pounds worth. At least, that's the ludicrous sum fisheries expert, Doctor Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), comes up with, mostly as an act of contempt for said fisheries project, and aimed at dissuading Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt).
She's the PR consultant to the Yemeni millionaire, Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), whose ambitious plan it is to introduce English salmon into his country's waterways for the purposes of practising his favourite sport of fly fishing. Seems you really can have too much money.
But when the UK government's press secretary, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas, relishing her time away from dramatic roles in French films) gets wind of the project (a positive spin on Anglo-Arab relations), seems Dr. Jones has little choice in the matter. Ironically, he has to go with the flow, unable to swim against the tide, or the current, or whatever it is salmon like to throw themselves up against (crazy fish!).
By all accounts, Paul Torday's 2006 novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is a clever satire on modern day political bureaucracy. But in the hands of screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, and director, Lasse Hallstrom -- neither strangers to feel good territory -- the film has opted for whimsical over scathing, and romance over reality.
Which is a shame, because Beaufoy (who penned Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and 127 Hours (2010)) and Hallstrom (1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) are capable of so much more. Admittedly, it's been a while since the Swedish director, responsible for Oscar-nominated fare The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000), brought his A-game to a film set.
For their part, McGregor and Blunt make for a perfectly fine couple even if Dr. Jones and Harriet aren't as quick to embrace the idea as the audience is (he's married, while her soldier boyfriend of just three weeks is M.I.A. in Afghanistan).
I've been enjoying McGregor's revival of late (I Love You Phillip Morris, The Ghost Writer, Beginners), and his Dr. Jones, hovering between OCD and Asperger's, and speaking with a light Scottish brogue (it's been so long, Ewan!) is a strangely charming creation.
And Blunt, doe-eyed and plum-voiced, is as lovely as ever. But I'm still waiting for the day when the Brit actress is given something meatier (the forthcoming Your Sister's Sister, perhaps?) to sink her teeth into. That meat, unfortunately, is not Salmon.
While there are less enjoyable ways to wile away 107 minutes (and fly fishing, anywhere in the world, would be one of them), there are also plenty more memorable things to do with your time than catch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.