Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fishing...Faith...Same Thing

The best thing about the film, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, is the imagery found in the title. The audacious idea of bringing a fishing industry to the desert evokes glorious ideas of rebirth and resurrection. But unfortunately, the soaring nature of this central theme is dragged down by dull, loathsome Hollywood clichés. Certainly, the film has an interesting pedigree. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (who made one of the greatest of all coming of age films, “My Life as a Dog”) and screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (who brings the work of a novelist to the screen as he did with “Slumdog Millionaire”) gave reason for hope. Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones. (Sidenote – I kept being distracted when people called him Dr. Jones which made me think of another famous movie scientist. Between this and playing Obi-Wan in the prequels, is he trying to redo all of George Lucas’ classic characters? Howard the Duck can’t be far behind. End sidenote.) Dr. Jones is an ichthyologist / British government drone challenged to help a sheik bring salmon to Yemen. Emily Blunt plays Harriet, a western representative for the sheik who must persuade Jones that the project is not a boondoggle or a joke but a viable possibility. Pressure is also supplied by Kristen Scott Thomas who plays the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary desperately seeking a positive story from the Middle East. Thomas as the foul mouthed, devious political schemer provides some of the film’s funniest moments, especially in her texting conversations with the Prime Minister, but at times her moments come across as “In the Loop” lite. Another fine moment in the film comes when Jones meets with the sheik who ask if Jones is religious. Jones insists he just believes in facts and figures…He’s a scientist! But the sheik counters that Jones is a fisherman and by definition that means he is a man of faith. Why else would he spend hundreds of hours waist deep in water with no assured outcome. There are several interesting conversations about religion. Alfred and Harriet both admit they don’t know anyone who goes to church, Alfred saying he uses Sundays to go to Target. (This is a little puzzling as before we saw Alfred with his wife practicing in a musical quartet in a church. Whatever.) But as I mentioned before, tiresome clichés emerge and to discuss them I must stoop to spoilers. Though is it a spoiler to say that even though Jones is a married man and Harriet is in an affair with a soldier in Afghanistan, that the two will fall and love? For a while I thought that the message of the importance of patience and faith and fishing would be applied to the marriage of Dr. Jones. But no, because I more important rule is that in a Hollywood film the two names at the top of the bill, the pretty people, must come together. “Casablanca” is still fresh because lead characters doing what is right rather than what feels good is a rarity in films. There also is lazy characterization in the film. When Blunt’s boyfriend becomes inconvenient to the plot, he is shown to be a raciest, as all soldiers seem to be in Hollywood. And the sheik, we are assured, is different, a visionary who believes in peace, romance and fishing. There is talk of the cliché of “the magic negro”, an African American figure who is there to supple wisdom to the white hero. Amr Waked seems to be playing the Arab version of this role (as he did in “Syriana”). All the other Arabs seem shady and are probably all terrorists. And the final annoying cliché, was the talk of “faith”. In films, it is important to have faith, it doesn’t matter what you put your faith in. So it’s good for Alfred to put faith in something new and different like a fish hatchery in the desert and a romantic fling, but nothing so drab as an established marriage. But it does, of course, matter what you put your faith in. The film has people who engage in terrorism and they certainly have faith, placed in a wrong and evil place. Paul in I Corinthians 15 argues that if Christians put their faith in the resurrection and it proves untrue, then Christians are fools. So faith in fishing in the Yemen, in peace and prosperity in the Middle East needs to be more than just a pretty thought one believes in, it must be possible. I wish those ideas would have been even more central in the film than another tired boy meets girl story. (The film is rated PG-13 for brief violence and strong language.)

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