Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallstrom, 2012) Review

Satire runs dry in a soggy romance.

Fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) gets reeled in by a billionaire Sheik and his lovely assistant Harriet (Emily Blunt) in attempting to bring salmon and fishing to the desert of Yemen.  But can a love affair bloom in the arid region?

Despite his reservations, Dr Jones (far less exciting than his namesake, the adventuring archaeologist) accepts the offer of bringing fishing to the desert.  This decision is made easier by his tentative relationship with the Sheik’s delightful assistant but also because of the UK government’s pressure to create a story of positive Yemeni-British relations.  

Casting the net and catching Kristin Scott Thomas is the greatest achievement of director Lasse Hallstrom whose former glories (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) seem like distant memories.  Scott Thomas lands the tastiest role as the Prime Minister’s press guru and gets all the laughs with the sneaking satire that made the book so well loved.  Her oily spin doctor slices through the sentimentality of the script delivering welcome moments of spiky dialogue like a cactus in a sea of sand.

Despite being quite an appealing character with his musings on faith and fishing, the Sheik’s motives for his expensive experiment remain fishy.  The violent complications that briefly add excitement to the story are dubiously dealt out by those typically slippery Middle Eastern stereotypes but the film does question the ethics and intentions of both the wealthy Sheikh and those intent on destroying what he intends to create.

The love affairs of the upper crust characters fail to ignite the screen with the relationship between McGregor and Blunt being a little damp but both stars give charming performances given the limitations and predictability of the script.  It’s all very typically upper middle class with restraint and lip-chewing over who should jump in the sack with who but the resolution is never in doubt and the emotions are all so reserved, it fails to hook the audience or swim away with any tears.

Simon Beaufoy, an extremely reliable screenwriter, adapts Paul Torday’s book but has lost much of the political satire present in the source.  Following excellent adaptations that even exceed their origins with 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire, this is somewhat of a disappointment from Beaufoy.  Next up he’s tackling Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire.  Let’s hope he hooks a bigger beauty with that one.

Nevertheless the film is infinitely more entertaining than anyone with no interest in salmon, fishing or Yemen would suspect.  It’s a sweet if only mildly satisfying romance that has a memorable turn from Kristen Scott Thomas.  As a whole, most minds will release it as quick as they caught it. 

While not even remotely close to being as boring as the title would suggest, this film is still highly unlikely to get you swimming upstream for it.

I give it 5/10 but I don't think I'm the target audience.
Released Friday 20th April in the UK.