SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)


 Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those times where I am going to be somewhat critical of a movie that is based on a book I haven’t read. That doesn’t change my belief that this movie is stuck in the gray area between romantic drama and comedy, and because of it, comes across as just a lightweight film with no real message or emotion. For this, the director Lasse Hallstrom gets the accusatory glance. His history with Chocolat and Dear John are examples of how his fondness for all things mushy gets in the way of real story-telling.

The best parts of this movie are the comedic elements. Stuffy British fish expert Ewan McGregor has some really funny deadpan moments and his inner office battles with his boss wreak of truism. Same with Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary as if she were told this was a screwball comedy. She is funny and over the top, and was probably horrified when she saw the final version of the movie.

 The story is quite creative and interesting – a Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked, Syriana) has a vision of creating a vast green-land around a man-made freshwater river where Salmon spawn and feed the community. Unfortunately, the story leaks to the locals that this Sheikh with too much money is playing God just to satisfy his fishing hobby. Local rebels get involved in trying to stop the Sheikh and the project. Meanwhile, this Sheikh spouts off wisdom and advice as if he just finished reading the greatest hits of Confucious.

To bring this fishy project to fruition, the Sheikh enlists the British government’s help and that’s how Ms. Thomas, Mr. McGregor and a wonderful Emily Blunt get involved. We see early on that McGregor is stuck in a loveless marriage to a witch (figuratively speaking) played by Rachael Stirling (who may have the deepest voice of any actress since Lauren Bacall). Blunt’s character is a bit desperate for love and falls quickly for a soldier (Tom Mison) who is shipped off to war. So when Blunt and McGregor first meet … it seems destiny that these two opposites will attract.

 The scenery here is pretty impressive – especially the Scottish castle that houses the team for a brief period. I was just continually frustrated that more insight wasn’t provided into what makes this Sheikh tick. Is he truly the visionary he claims? If so, why? What did the locals really think of the project and was any effort made to deliver the long term vision? If not, why? Why did Blunt fall so quickly for this soldier? Just because they had fun in bed? Seems a bit shallow for someone who can peer into the soul of a nerd like McGregor. And why did McGregor ever fall for this ice-queen he married? Makes no apparent sense.

Simon Beaufoy‘s screenplay of Paul Torday‘s novel delivers a few good chuckles, but mostly leaves us wanting a real direction for the story and bit more depth of character. It’s always frustrating when a promising premise leaves us fighting so hard to swim upstream … just like the salmon and characters of the film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: if your favorite movie genre is non-descript love stories OR you have been anxiously awaiting a film with a lead character who is a fish expert

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for an expert comedy or an expert love story

watch the trailer:

7 Responses to SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)

  1. Bruce says:

    Despite the neg review, I think I want to see this one. Sounds pretty off beat but interesting. They can’t all be GWTW.

    • Maybe my words came across more negatively than intended. It’s a very watchable movie, but seems to be confused between love story drama and the near parody comedy. Mostly I just hoped for more detail in the story.

  2. Bruce says:

    SPOILER ALERT

    I saw this yesterday, and while it was far from perfect, I found it to be an enjoyable movie.

    I see the criticism that the movie can’t make up its mind as to what it is, but … isn’t’ that the way of life? Aren’t there times when life can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a tragedy? People laugh at funerals and cry at weddings.

    Certainly there are predictable elements. Once the 2 principals take off together to work on the project, we know they will fall in love. And the scene where the soldier lover returns is so contrived that I kept thinking Oh No, Oh No, as the scene was unfolding.

    Although the salmon project was outlandish, maybe such a thing can be done. If the Chinese can build Three Gorges Dam, and if Americans can go to the moon, what can’t be done with enough time and money. The sheik’s opponents are upset that all this modernity reeks of the Western world, and they will do “anything” to stop it.

    The portrayal of the sheik is excellent. He is caught between his heritage and what appears to be a genuine desire to bring his people into the modern world.

    That doesn’t mean there can’t be some comedy. There was some comedy in GWTW and Chinatown, but neither was a comedy.

    • Bruce, I can’t tell if your criticism is of the movie, my comments, or other reviews. Certainly, the best comedies have dramatic elements and vice versa. However, the best films blend these elements seamlessly … not with an on/off switch between genres. And while I agree that the sheik is well cast and is portrayed with the necessary temperament, I stick by my original claim that the story would have benefited from having this character be better developed and more of a focal point, rather than just a chess piece for the board. As for the “outlandish” salmon project, my original comments label this as a very creative and interesting premise. I would not be the one to call the project impossible, though the movie makes that point numerous times. It seems we agree that there was much to work with here, though the execution fell a bit short.

  3. Bruce says:

    No I wasnt critizing your review. My real point, probably lost in words, was that the movie (perhaps intentionally, unintentionally, or accidentally) showed that human emotions pop up at the most inconvenient times and places.

  4. I rather enjoyed the movie because of its off-beat premise. I thought the comedy at the beginning, before Dr. Jones almost gasped at Harriet in her stunning black dress, was just that, funny. From that point on, humour was okay, except for the over the top Patricia Maxwell dialogue. Still, it sort of worked because the character was consistent from start to end.
    I had little problem with the Sheik’s Confucious like philosophy but as you pointed out there was a glaring hole in the plot, insofar as the romance between Harriet and the soldier. How she could feel the way her character was portrayed after that sole encounter the audience knew about is beyond comprehension.

    It was for me a saltine feel good movie, something you have between servings of something else. It’s easy to take. Actually when you’re in a ‘I don’t know what I want to watch’ mood, it’s very good.

    • Ray, I too appreciate the premise, and my initial comments on the film may have been a bit harsh. I’ll admit to heightened annoyance when a story doesn’t live up to a good start. It’s not one I would seek out for a second viewing, but neither would I avoid it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: