Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Movie Review
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
There’s an adage in filmmaking that in order to make a good movie, you need two of three things: a good director, a good script, and good actors. That works in favor of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It comes from director Lasse Hallström, director of such fare as The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and My Life as a Dog. The script was adapted from the Paul Torday novel of the same name by Simon Beaufoy, who adapted Slumdog Millionaire. And it stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.
Yet, when all is said and done, the completed film falls a bit flat. What went wrong then?
It starts with the story. McGregor works as a conservationist in some British department of something or other. His expertise in salmon is called upon by Blunt, who works in some British company or other that represents the affairs of a billionaire Sheikh (Amr Waked). He’s got the notion to use a newly built dam to provide the water necessary to create an area suitable for … wait for it … salmon fishing in Yemen! (Was it worth the wait?)
Along the way, we learn that McGregor’s marriage has lost its zing, as both he and his wife are more married to their work than to each other. Blunt has just recently started a relationship with a soldier who goes MIA serving in Afghanistan. The Sheikh isn’t beloved by everyone in the region and is the target of more than one assassination attempt. Oh, and the three of them are also going to put together this salmon fishing thing too. That’s a lot of plot points to consolidate into 112 minutes.
The next misstep comes from Hallstrom’s attempt to marry these disparate elements. We don’t need to know as much about McGregor’s marriage as we are given in the front section of the movie; it’s just a waste of time conveying emotions easily provided over the course of other events. Once her boyfriend goes missing, Blunt and McGregor’s time to shine comes to the forefront but between their work on the salmon project and the Sheikh’s problems with assassins, it’s a disjointed effort. There’s an attempt to marry east and west, via the struggle of McGregor’s character to have faith and not rely on facts or figures so much … but this too is given light treatment because there are just too many other elements to cover as well.
Of the three elements necessary for a good film, the brightest spot here is the acting. Kristin Scott Thomas does a great job as a British government official, but the script and direction let her down as the character takes too harsh a turn in the latter half given the tone of the movie. McGregor and Blunt are especially effective, sharing a lovely chemistry.
If the story had been simply about two awkward people falling in love while working for an ambitious billionaire, this would have been a delightful and charming movie. Naturally, in adapting the novel, there are other complications that get in the way and this appears to be a case of the powers that be wanting to shoehorn the type of movie they wanted into the loose trappings of a story that isn’t set up to be translated in such a sweet and airy fashion.
This did do extremely well at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is winning audiences over. That’s no surprise, the movie is a crowd pleaser … just not in the way that the phrase would be considered a compliment. It won’t take a savvy moviegoer to see where the plot is going, and any victories won by the characters should probably come with their own cheer section, like a laugh track for mediocre sitcoms. Considering the talents of those involved, that’s a big disappointment and instead of becoming a somewhat hidden gem of 2012, this likely will become a forgotten blip on the radar. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has sweet moments and a good cast but the overall result is cookie cutter and fails to deliver anything but shallow platitudes.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen hits theaters throughout March 2012 and is rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language.