Sunday, April 1, 2012

New Release Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallstrom, 2012)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday April 5.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a British romantic comedy/drama directed by Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) and adapted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) from the novel of the same name by Paul Torday.


Britain’s leading fisheries expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), is approached by a consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emilt Blunt), to help realise a Shiekh’s (Amr Waked) vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the deserts of Yemen. Initially he believes the proposal to be unachievable, not to mention expensive, but facing redundancy from his ungrateful boss – who has been pressured by the Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary to ensure Alfred is on board – and problems at home, Alfred begins to warm to the project and starts to see the warped endeavour in a fresh light. He meets and befriends the Sheikh, finds an enthusiastic colleague in Harriet, and tries to beat the odds.

The success of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen rests on the charm of its leads, and Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Amr Waked (scene-stealing on occasions) deliver excellent performances and effectively carry this touching and often-amusing drama, with a unique and intriguing premise, through some mildly disappointing snags in the form of shifting tones, romantic clich├ęs, plot contrivances (especially in the final act), lazy subplots and dainty sentimentality. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is at its strongest when these core characters share the screen, and if some more thought had have gone into the subplots, including some rebels who oppose the project and try and sabotage it, a more complete film would have resulted.


It is a shame because there are some well-conceived ideals here – bringing a simple pleasure such as fishing to a people in conflict and divide in the hopes that it will help them to unite, and showing up British bureaucracy desperately trying to distract their people from the slew of tragedies in the Middle East. 

Blunt’s relationship with an on-call Army officer at first has weight, until he is declared MIA (and later dead). Her shock at the loss – only knowing him for a few weeks, but agreeing to wait for him - and confusion she faces with her increasing attraction to Alfred, certainly rouses some emotions. It is all over-complicated in the conclusion, and the way this ‘miracle romance’ is used to help plug the British involvement in this grand ecological accomplishment produced a groan.

McGregor is always reliable, and easily likeable and relatable as a ‘do-the-right-thing’ everyman. This actually continues a string of great work following The Ghost Writer and Beginners from recent years. He is convincing as a fisheries expert (of all things), and his change of heart – at first viewing the project as a joke and a theoretical impossibility, and eventually releasing his pessimism, finding his faith and embracing the determination of Sheikh Mohammed - is genuinely heart-warming. Alfred, who has endured a stuffy underappreciated office job and a stale marriage for too long, finds himself in the deserts of Yemen doing what he loves most; fishing, while falling in love and helping these idealistic visions come to life along the way.


McGregor and the gorgeous Blunt give their well-rounded characters plenty of heart. Beaufoy’s screenplay allows them defining moments, and we see them evolve and develop as their enthusiasm with the project continues to grow, and the plans, despite some hiccups, start to seem feasible. Though we know that they will become attracted to one another, watching them become more than colleagues, but sensitive confidants when necessary, feels organic and is easy to accept and support. Kristen Scott-Thomas, mostly unbelievable but relishing being bossy, provides some laughs as the woman desperate to make this endeavour work in favour of Britain, as does Conleth Hill as Alfred’s demanding and ultimately incompetent boss.

On a technical level, it is solid, with Terry Stacey making beautiful use of the film’s unique locale, contrasting Alfred’s drab office life (utilizing a blue filter and giving the image a washed-out look) with the vibrant sun-drenched look of the Yemen. Lasse Hallstrom, no stranger to directing feel-good romances – Chocolat, The Cider House Rules – for the most part has succeeded again here. This is a light, breezy, touching, and funny story and though viewers will know what to expect, it makes it no less enjoyable. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen wouldn’t have been as successful if talents less than McGregor and Blunt were involved. Their charm is imperative and makes this film, despite its faults, one to recommend.


My Rating: ★★★ (B-)

7 comments:

  1. My exact feelings. It was nice. And that's about it.

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    1. Yes, it is a heartwarming, feel-good comedy/drama with plenty of faults. Luckily most of these can be forgiven because the cast is so strong.

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  2. Great blog, informative and up to date. Bookmarking your page. Thanks and more power!

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    1. Thank you very much. I am glad you are enjoying it. Look forward to your continued support.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, I was lucky enought to see it at a screening as this movie hasn't even hit my area. Great review Andy and totally agree that McGregor and Blunt made the film work so well, but I must say Amr Waked as the Sheik was quite charming as well. Nice to see a film where the Arabs aren't portrayed as looneys who just want to blow stuff up, ahah. The cinematography is stunning indeed, I'd be renting this one again when it's out on Blu-ray!

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  4. This one never grabbed my interest. The trailer just looked so cheesey to me

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  5. Thanks for such a wonderful article! I really enjoyed it.

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