Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Unlike its unassuming protagonist (the salmon), Salmon fishing in the Yemen is a warm, captivating release and a must see for 2012...
It would be fair to say that the British impression of the Middle East is far from favourable at present. Continual problems in Libya, embassy attacks in Afghanistan and a tentative relationship with Iran - each of which is highlighted on a daily basis courtesy of round-the-clock media - has left the average man and woman with a somewhat abhorrent outlook on our Eastern brethren. Furthermore, this historically strained relationship has seemingly reached breaking point on a number of occasions, many of which were spurred on by the horrific attacks on New York in 9/11; London in 7/7 and Madrid in 11-M.
As such, the making of such a culturally diverse film - based on the politically satirical novel of the same name by Paul Torday - is both a brave and timely addition to British and contemporary cinema.
It's also one of the best films 2012 has to offer thus far...
Avoiding spoilers, the plot is essentially this:
A sheikh with "more money than sense" wants to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen. Coincidentally, the British government is in desperate need of a 'feel good' Middle Eastern story and sees Sheikh Muhammed's venture as the perfect opportunity in which to strengthen Anglo-Yemeni relations.
A little arm-twisting later and Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is fronting a £50 million which he has no faith in, despite the fact that he pitched it personally (it soon becomes apparent that this was in fact a sarcastic pitch). Aided by the sheiks personal P.A, Miss Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and forcibly encouraged by both his boss, Bernard Sugden (Conleth Hill) and the Prime Minister's leading press officer, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), Dr. Jones (in more than a nod towards Harrison Ford's influential Dr. Jones) must lay aside his doubts and indifference towards the project and concentrate on populating Yemeni waters with salmon.
That's it. No fancy CGI, mind-boggling budgets or pointless cameos - just a beautifully simplistic plot done to perfection. However, where the film really comes to life is through it's tangled web of sub-context. Whilst on paper the plot sounds tediously placid, it's inter-connecting story-lines helps gives leverage to its otherwise basic appeal. Lasse Hallström, the films director, takes a straight-forward story and permeates it with enough context and evolution so as to appeal to even the most fleeting of cinema-goers.
Humour is well placed, providing light-relief to the films otherwise serious tone, and its authenticity is never in doubt. Moreover, the laughter is never strained - whether through Dr. Jones' colourful exchanges with Miss Chetwode-Talbot or Miss Maxwell's brash spin-doctoring, the comedy finds its own feet, complimenting rather than imposing. Simply put, it's authentic - as natural as salmon fishing in the Yemen. Well...
And yet, the 'catch of the day' must go to the fine theatrical performances demonstrated within. Ewan McGregor is excellent as a socially awkward scientist, a role far from his ordinary acting scope but well within his range, as to is Emily Blunt as the sheikh's upper middle-class P.A. Much of the film is built around their quirky, often contrasting personalities, but such is the delicacy that one could almost miss the 'chick-flick' appeal of this release.
Strong supporting roles come courtesy of McGregor's fictional boss, Bernard Sugden (Conleth Hill) and the lovably eccentric Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), an individual that you cannot help be drawn too. However, the stand out role is that of the Prime Minister's leading press officer, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas). As the P.M's very own journo, her dry wit and terrior-eqsue demeanour are quintessential to her no-s**t regime, adding a degree of bitterness to SFITY's otherwise squeaky clean appeal. Furthermore, her sharp nature is comparable to that of any dictatorial editor regime - such as those run by the likes of Rupert Murdoch etal - and for that Kristin Thomas deserves high praise.
But what of the name; what of the Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? Well, it happens...physically...but its real purpose is that of a symbolic nature. As the sheikh describes, salmon fishing requires patience, determination and commitment, but most importantly requires faith. From a theological viewpoint, this film explores the true complexity of a belief system - like a man of faith, a fisherman listens not to those around him but instead to his belief; a belief that tells him that the fish should he (or she) be willing to persevere. Furthermore, just as the fishing attempts to bring peace to a strained Anglo-Yemeni relationship, so to does this film offer a different insight into our Middle Eastern counterparts. More importantly, it portrays them in honourable fashion, an image that is severely misconstrued and misrepresented within the media, but one that is far closer to the truth.
Ultimately, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an endearing story that is sure to resonate well with its audience. Strong acting performances coupled with an intrinsic love story gives the film a broad potential viewing, with enough plot and substance to satisfy even the most demanding of cinema goers. Moreover, combining the elegance of upperclass British romanticism with exotic Arabian nobility was by no means an easy feat, but it would appear that director Lasse Hallström was more than up for the challenge.
A charming and heart-warming release, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a beautiful piece of contemporary cinema and comes highly recommended from start to finish...
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