Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen poster

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
107 mins / Dir. Lasse Hallström

You're right, it's not the sort of thing I usually go for, but you know what? With Battleship last week, and Avengers on the horizon, I fancied something a bit different, so I thought I'd give it a go.

The Plot: (From Rotten Tomatoes / CBS) "When Britain's leading fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to help realize a sheikh's (Amr Waked) vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert, he immediately thinks the project is both absurd and unachievable. But when the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a "good will" story, this unlikely team will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible…"

The Good: 'Salmon Fishing…' is very British Film™. It's often charming, but rarely twee, which is a trap it could easily have fallen into. Much of the comedy is dry and understated, and McGregor and Blunt put in great turns as their respective 'it's tough having issues when you're British' characters. I should also mention that it's good to see Ewan in a part that doesn't involve his horrendous American accent, and is a reminder that he can actually act.

There are patches of stylisation in the form of letter, e-mail and text exchanges that I'd liked to have seen expanded upon. They're not used enough to be a feature of the film (and granted, some scenes work better without them), but it's as if the sequences that take place in the UK and those in Yemen were assembled by different directors. Neither style is worse than the other, they just don't quite gel together. I could have handled it being a little consistenty quirkier.

Speaking of quirky, Amr Waked as Sheikh Muhammed is the most interesting, and underused, character in the whole film. Quietly funny, determined and wiser than the rest of the protagonists, we see very little of him considering how much he's in the story. I'm aware that it's not 'his' story, but it's not the PM's Press Secretary's either, and we get to see her family life...

Oh, and me being me loved the fact that Ewan's called "Dr Jones" on-screen for a lot of this, and they even put in a slight nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Well, I took it as a reference, anyway. It occurred to me that I'd be quite happy to see Ewan star in an Indiana Jones prequel as Henry Jones senior, but that's a different blog post.

The Bad: Unfortunately, I picked up little-to-no chemistry between McGregor and Blunt. Which is odd, because they play their respective parts well enough, but I just didn't buy the unfolding relationship between the two of them. They start the film being short and bickery with each other (as is par for the course with this kind of thing), and although that dissolves into an easygoing friendship between the two of them, it never seems to go further than that. As a result, when Dr Jones professes his love for Ms Chetwode-Talbot, it surprised me more than any characters in the film. Likewise, when Harriet gets all teary in return I was a little puzzled as to why. Maybe I'm the wrong demographic*1 for that aspect of the film, I dunno.

There are also several clockwork-moments in the film, where plot devices (the argumentative wife, the returning boyfriend) click into place not only with thudding predictability, but also handled with no real care. The character transformation of Harriet's missing-in-action boyfriend is pretty astounding; Tom Mison practically wears a top hat and cloak upon his return, laying in bed and coming out with precisely the kind of borderline racist banter that Harriet would have spotted a mile off previously. It also robs her character of having to make any really involved decisions, when he's being kind-of-a-dick, and Dr. Jones is being kind-of-lovely.

Oh, and does Dr Alfred Jones have Asperger's? It's mentioned at one point in the script, but in a way that it's already been discussed, and then it's never mentioned again. It's not important, just a loose end I'd liked to have seen tied up. A bit like the thread he picks up off of Harriet's sofa, then uses later when he's making a fly; it's definitely there, just not mentioned. How much of this film is on the cutting room floor?

Ultimately, at the end of 'Salmon Fishing…', I genuinely wanted the river-project to be a success, and I had no feelings either way about the romance. So they did half of it right, at least.

The Ugly: Kristen Scott Thomas overplays her part a little, although the worst bits aren't actually her, but appear in the form of a typed instant-messaging conversation between Patricia Maxwell and the Prime Minister. Still, at least they didn't shoehorn Bill Nighy or Maggie Smith in there...

Worth £8+? In all honesty? Probably not, unless you're a massive fan of any of the leads. It's definitely very watchable, but you'd be hard pressed to take anything away from it. Everyone on-screen is on good form, but I suspect the film's faults lie with the story itself...


Chances are, you will enjoy it, you just might not be engaged by it at all.

*1 *1 By which I mean 'gender'.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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