Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: A review
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen – Dir: Lasse Hallström; *ing: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked
NOT a sequel to Reading Lolita in Tehran
Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, Dear John) must be a gentle, sweet man, for he makes these gentle, sweet, fable-esque films that are life-affirming and star eminently easy on the eyes actors who bring further warm-and-fuzzies into the equation. So does it matter that the films themselves come off safe to the point of being predictable and unengaging? Why yes, yes it does. Especially when, as in the case of Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, he completely eschews the source novel’s biting edge to produce a work so toothless, so devoid of irony, that one can’t help but wonder why the book was adapted at all.
It should be telling enough that while Paul Torday’s novel was a deeply political satire whose oddball title was supposed to inspire incredulity, the screen version posits itself as a ‘heartwarming’ romance, which, nonetheless, can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a comedy, a drama or a quasi-spiritual allegory. A Yemeni Sheikh (Waked), who is an avid fly-fisher, wants to introduce Scottish salmon into a water reservoir that he has developed in his country. To this end, the British government, looking for a feel-good story to perk up its presence in the Middle East, enlists Dr. Fred Jones (McGregor), a salmon expert in the fisheries department. Jones is that typical stuffy science man peculiar to films of this sort, and his strait-laced straight-talking is given a counterpoint in the form of easy, breezy, beautiful Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), the Sheikh’s financial advisor on the project. While Harriet gets on with the business at hand even as she’s dealing with the grief of her soldier boyfriend who has gone missing in Afghanistan, Fred unlearns his rigid, logical ways, surrounded as they both are by the wonders of nature, first in the lush highlands and then the expanse of the desert. Meanwhile the blue-eyed Sheikh waxes eloquent about spirituality, faith, and the healing power of catching medium-sized fish.
Yes, it’s all supposed to be quirky and funny and moving and even a tiny bit profound, but the film’s tone is so inconsistent that you’re never quite sure what it is that you ought to be feeling at any particular point. In the first twenty minutes or so, you’ll be fooled into believing that you’re watching a political farce, only to be thrown headlong into a dirge over the missing paramour, and then into maudlin budding-romance and hippy-dippy Mid-Eastern philosophy. I mean, are we really supposed to buy the ‘gentle wisdom’ of the benign sheikh spending 50 million big ones to import a bunch of fish into a desert without a even a pinch of irony? Apparently, we are, and the film floats along on a similarly serene, politically correct note throughout. Indeed, the script is so deliberately subdued and mortified of being offensive to a single mortal soul that you can pretty much sense the egg shells strewn on the floor. The only point where the proceedings show any signs of suiting up and being any real, unapologetic fun is when Thomas, as the British PM’s press officer, storms on screen, brassy and no-nonsense, and delivers a metaphorical kick in the pants to anyone getting in the way of her job. But her part is much too fleeting to have any measurable impact on the rest of the film, which is simply too spineless, too all over the place, to be taken to heart or mind.
Cult: A River Runs Through It (1992) – One of Brad Pitt’s earliest star-making turns was in this Robert Redford-directed period drama about fly-fishing, based on the story by Norman Maclean.
Current: The Hunger Games – This beautifully filmed but rather tame adaptation of the Suzanne Collins’ bestseller did well enough to merit a sequel which will come around next year.
Coming Attraction: Life of Pi – Ang Lee helms this adaptation of the Yann Martel novel, and it stars newcomer Suraj Sharma, along with Irrfan Khan and Tobey Maguire.