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FILM REVIEW: Movie boasts quaint title, but familiar storytelling Bill Fentum, Mar 9, 2012
PHOTO COURTESY CBS FILMS
A Middle Eastern sheikh (Amr Waked) enlists a Scottish fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) to bring ‘Salmon Fishing to the Yemen,’ in a newly released comedy-drama.
By Bill Fentum Associate Editor
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language
Moviegoers who look beyond this film’s odd title will find a tale of hope emerging from the turmoil of world conflict, and sage wisdom from—of all sources—an oil-rich Middle Eastern sheikh.
In a script based on Paul Torday’s 2006 novel, the sheikh (Amr Waked) dreams of irrigating a valley in his Yemeni homeland and then importing 10,000 North Atlantic salmon to fill the waters. His ultimate goal, he says, is to develop local agriculture and foster a much-needed sense of community in the region.
The sheikh has the money to make it happen; he lacks only expert assistance. So he hires Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a young British business consultant who, in turn, seeks help from Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a Scottish fisheries scientist.
Alfred isn’t eager at first, and after a brief visit to Yemen tells them the idea is outrageous and unworkable. But he’s forced to reconsider when Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), a relentless press secretary for the U.K. prime minister, insists cooperation on the project would put an optimistic “spin” on British relations in the Middle East.
So Alfred goes back to Yemen, reluctantly at first. After a while, though, he begins to share the sheikh’s enthusiasm for reasons having nothing to do with spin. He embraces the ambitious plan as a “divine form of madness”—a faith that what seemed impossible can indeed be achieved for the benefit of generations to come.
And of course, with faith comes hope and a measure of love. At the heart of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the relationship between Alfred—at the end of an unhappy marriage—and Harriet, mourning the loss of a soldier boyfriend who is MIA in Afghanistan and presumed dead. If you expect a hesitant-but-budding romance, you won’t be disappointed.
However, once the story is set in motion there aren’t many surprises to come. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) has been accused of watering down the book’s edgier twists. Whether that’s true or not, a few of the plot turns do feel contrived. One character in particular turns out all-too-conveniently to be a jerk, and a threat from Islamic nationalists who want the sheikh’s plan to fail is too easily overcome.
But the cast is more than capable, with Mr. McGregor and Ms. Blunt an appealing team and Ms. Scott Thomas delivering an occasional, welcome touch of cynicism.
And thanks to director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, My Life as a Dog) it’s at least infused with moments of old-fashioned charm and intelligence, and free from crude humor or insulting stereotypes.
These days, we’ll take our blessings where we can get them.