Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012) – Review

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a romantic narrative predicated on great chemistry between its leads as well as an interesting story, bridging, to some degree, faith and science. The film is about Sheikh Muhammed who has a dream to bring salmon fishing, a greatly loved pastime of his, to his native country of Yemen. To do this, he assigns his British consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot to meet with fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones, who also has Asperger’s syndrome (I kept thinking of Indiana Jones every time someone called him Dr. Jones). The two of them come up with a plan to see it through, and also begin to fall in love. Director Lasse Hallstrom does a great job setting up the characters and giving them moments so that the audience really does connect with them and want them to end up together. (And this film is somewhat different from many romances in that) Harriet and Alfred are both in relationships when they meet each other, making it interesting to see how Hallstrom and the actors navigate around these other characters (staying likable disposing of their significant others). Hallstrom does not take the easy route of making these significant others awful or wholly unlikable, he makes the relationships complicated and thus Harriet and Alfred’s love has to be all the more earned. Hallstrom and writer Simon Beaufoy also do a great job opposing the two characters at first. They sort of infuriate one and other, but on a playful sort of level. Alfred thinks the whole idea of bringing fishing to a desert to be ridiculous, while Harriet seems so positive and optimistic. But through Hallstrom’s narrative device, the viewer can see just how right for each other they really are creating a strong romance that the viewer takes stock in and wants to see come to fruition. Another aspect of the narrative is its take on science versus faith. Hallstrom approaches the discussion from a very non-denominational stance, inferring that while science can answer many of our questions, it is faith that allows us to believe in answers that science cannot quite solve (things like gut feelings or expectations). The whole premise of bringing fishing to the desert seems like it would take a miracle to come off, and thus to engage in its undertaking would require faith (and thus making it a somewhat inspiring story). Most of the narrative plays very well, but there are a few moments that feel a bit exaggerated or a little false affecting the overall narrative in a minor way. Plus, Harriet’s boyfriend at the beginning is used as a dramatic ploy to create an obstacle out of nowhere later that feels very heavy-handed and forced, which does detract from the end of the second act and whole third act (but again this is not a major issue). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a good romance because the leads have great chemistry (and we genuinely want them to be together), overcoming minor narrative issues.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lasse Hallstrom has built his career around making good romances and dramas (The Cider House Rules probably being my favorite). His films work because he focuses on the characters and their moments (and really the story is secondary to the characters in his film – the story does not dictate the characters rather the characters live within the world of the story), and in doing so the viewer does connect and care about them making his films resonate on a more emotional level (and this is certainly true of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). Composer Dario Marianelli’s (who always does beautiful and superb work) score captures the emotional journey of the characters complimenting Hallstrom’s directing. It is very delightful and wondrous in its accompaniment (here is a preview). Terry Stacey’s cinematography is very straightforward in style; however the contrast between the color palate and the lighting in Britain versus Yemen is very evident in differentiating both the two locals and also the change in the characters as the narrative progresses. Michael Carlin’s production design is also fairly straightforward creating a realistic environment for the characters, though there is a noticeable difference in Alfred’s home in comparison to Harriet’s (playing off how different they are when they meet). The cast is excellent in the film. Amr Waked, Rachael Stirling, Tom Mison, and especially Conleth Hill and Kristin Scott Thomas are great in supporting roles (Scott Thomas stealing a few scenes). Ewan McGregor is very good as Alfred. He is awkward and emotionally clumsy yet very charming. Emily Blunt has a wonderful comedy to her. She is very good dramatically, but brings so much life to this film (or any film) that it lightens the tone (which is heavy at times). And again (as I have stated a number of times), they have brilliant chemistry together.

Summary & score: Romances are best when the audience takes stock in the characters and wants to see them together at the end, and this is the case with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. 7/10

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