Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Swims Upstream Against Cliche and Fights to Swim in a Commentary on Issues from Today

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (3 out of 5)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules)
Written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas

Last night I caught the screening for this movie with its star Emily Blunt.  Ms. Blunt is first and foremost a beautifully charming individual; she talked about a funny story while filming this where she attempted to fish and ended up hooking Ewan's dog.  While many of the questions were about the film, her craft, and working with co-stars like Meryl Streep and Miss. Piggy.  There were also questions about her lovely husband Jon Krasinski whose parents were in the audience because they live in Newton, MA.  Blunt has a terrific presence which explains how she can help carry material that was had its moments of beauty and some big misses.

Salmon Fishing centers on a fisheries expert, Dr. Afred Jones (McGregor) who is approached by a consultant, Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot (Blunt) to help a Sheikh from Yemen (Waked) live out his dream by fishing in Yemen.  When Jones initially hears about the project he writes a e-mail to Harriet stating that because logically Salmon would not be able to adapt to the environment in Yemen this was not possible.  Enter the government.  The next morning Patricia Maxwell who is in charge of the press office for the Prime Minister, is awoken by the news of a bombing in Afghanistan.  Maxwell needs a new story to change the tone, and lands on making Dr. Jones aid in the Sheikh's journey to make it possible to fish for Salmon in the Yemen.

The directing/writing team of Hallstrom and Beaufoy combines the strength of each person.  Separately they have each contributed some great work to their perspective film category.  Hallstrom knows how to turn on the charm his films Chocolat and The Cider House Rules were both films that used charm from their books to influence their perspective films.  In a way Hallstrom knows how to work with adapted material, and make it work.  Hallstrom has also adapted the films Dear John and The Shipping News, which ultimately did not work. 

 Beaufoy's scripts have been incredibly solid, while I do not know if his talents match that of the director; he has adapted some wonderful screenplays himself.  Together this team make a film that while enjoyable does not always hit the right spots.  While this film is solid, witty, and charming it often loses the deeper messages that are meant to be conveyed as it tries to romantically connect Blunt and McGregor's character.  The real storyteller is the natural environment where the shot the film.  Cinematographer Terry Stacey does an excellent job showing the beauty of Scotland and Yemen.  Each scene was more breathtaking than the next and it was like getting lost on a magical journey.

 Blunt and McGregor have solid chemistry, and in listening to her speak to us she stated "actors work best when they build good rapport off screen."  While watching these two on screen it was apparent that they hit it it off, and got along swimmingly.  Blunt does a good job with her role, carrying the wait of emotional grief well.  While McGregor's role and evolution of character is harder to display, he does a good job, because he is a good actor.  The real highlights of the film for me are the two supporting players Kristin Scott Thomas's Maxwell brings an amazingly witty breath of fresh air to this film; she is utterly fantastic.  Waked who played the Sheikh is also brilliant.  Waked has done a lot of smaller roles, but I feel as though this film, and this role will be a major breakthrough for him.  Waked is charming, charismatic, and has tremendous acting potential.

Scott Thomas and Waked's characters represent the most intriguing parts of the film.  The film is meant to show the way politics misrepresent certain situations, and  the way logic and faith can have an impact on life decisions.  While I believe the film uses these concepts well, the film is not able to delve deep enough into the subject matter.

Scott Thomas represents the political structure.  Through her character, and looking at the fisheries office the film itself mocks today's politicos through showing their conversations via using an instant messenger, having the Prime Minister pretending to fish, and showing their need to create an agenda to gloss over the negative in today's society or create a staged photo opportunity.  While the  script is sharp enough not to shove this down the audiences throat, it does lose the sharper veracity on political structures.

The Sheikh's character is a commentary on the lack of faith in today's world.  His character has a huge impact on Dr. Jones whose reasoning is based solely on logic, but this project with the sheikh tends to shake his thinking about not only salmon, but life.  While Maked was great, and Ewen's transformation does occur, I feel like this is the weakest aspect of the film.  This is the foundation for the relationship that exists between McGregor and Blunt, and its often set on shaky ground.  Blunt and McGregor's chemistry save the day here.  I would have liked more of Maked's character because is the heart and soul of this film; he is the person who wants to do the impossible, and his journey is more fascinating than Dr. Jones.

At the end of the day this film's solid beauty and wit propel this be a decent film, that makes you believe in something more than just staying the course.  While the leads may be what we are meant to focus on, the supporting cast steal the show, and bring the film back to its core.  This is not just a love story but a commentary on life today.

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