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'A Hologram for the King' meanders but succeeds

What happens when a middle-aged American businessman travels to Saudi Arabia to try to sell a holographic telecommunications system to the king? Not much.

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Alexander Black and Tom Hanks in 'A Hologram for the King.'

Helmut Prein

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"A Hologram for the King,” based on the sparsely plotted 2012 Dave Eggers novel, stars Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, a middle-aged, divorced, and near-broke American businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia hoping to sell King Abdullah a holographic telecommunications system. Nothing much happens in this film, which has its links, as did Eggers’s novel, to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” The Godot figure, in this case, is the king, and Hanks, perfectly cast, is the Everyman trying to make sense not only of the alien culture but also his own increasingly alien life.

It’s a sweet, deliberately meandering movie, and it took me a while to connect with it. But it won me over because ultimately it conveys so well that feeling of estrangement that is both terrifying and comic for any farflung traveler. (In this, it resembles the Sofia Coppola-Bill Murray “Lost in Translation.”) Director Tom Tykwer is best known for “Run Lola Run.” This slowed-down film could be called “Stumble Alan Stumble.” In supporting roles, Alexander Black as a talkative cabbie and Sarita Choudhury as a Saudi doctor both excel.

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