Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, 107 minutes
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked

Some movies are written off because of their titles and it takes a while for them to gain an audience. Few people knew what The Shawshank Redemption was before it was released on VHS. Another confusing title is The World's Fastest Indian. Is it about an athlete of some kind? While other movies, such as Freedom Writers and The Reader, simply sound boring. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is in danger of being dismissed due to its title, but that would be a mistake.

Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) is a fisheries expert, and he seems like a boring man. His existence is dull and safe. His relationship with his wife is one of mutual tolerance, and they do not share the same passions. He only drinks alcohol on the weekend, and only after 7pm. Nobody takes him seriously at work either, so he has little to look forward to.

Sheikh Muhammed (Waked) is a keen fisherman, but that's not an easy hobby to satisfy when you are surrounded by sand. He recruits a team to investigate the possibility of building a river in the desert, and populating it with salmon, so that he can pursue his passion for fishing. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) is given the task of recruiting Jones and anyone or anything else that might be needed to complete the project. She's in a new relationship and loves a soldier, but that is put on hold when he is called up for duty.

The movie is heavily influenced by romance. Harriet is in a hopeful new relationship, Jones is in a tired marriage, and could there even be the possibility of romance between the two with them working so closely together? The other main element is humor. The largely British cast influences the tone, and the humor is more subtle and understated than in typical North American comedies. I found myself smiling often, rather than laughing out loud. Most of the laughs come at the expense of Jones, who is set in his routines and is a quirky individual.

Jones doesn't treat the project seriously because it sounds so ludicrous, but his outlook changes when he meets Sheikh Muhammed, who is one of the most likable characters in the movie.

Blunt is not a typical beauty, but she's a good actress. I was impressed with her performances in Sunshine Cleaning and The Adjustment Bureau, and she's just as effective in this movie. She has a certain warmth and vulnerability that works well for a romantic lead. McGregor most recently caught my attention in The Ghost Writer, and he plays Jones perfectly.

However, the movie is more than a romantic comedy. The two leads are required to pull off several emotional scenes, especially in the final act.

One character who elicits laughs in every scene in which she appears is Patricia Maxwell (Thomas), who plays the British Prime Minister's aide. She's the main villain in the story and is always out to manipulate the situation in order to gain votes and positive mentions in the newspapers.

I'm not entirely sure who the movie is aimed at, but it worked for me. It won't change your life with a dramatic message that you've never seen before, but it's an enjoyable place to visit for a while.

The Blu-ray presentation is strong and the desert scenes look particularly impressive. Special features are sparse and total just over 16 minutes.

Overall score 3.75/5

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  1. Not a big fan of Kristen Scott Thomas, I find her rather bland, but it sounds like she pulled off an excellent job here. I'm hoping to catch Yemen this weekend.

  2. Don't worry, she's a minor character. If you like Blunt and McGregor, you'll be fine.

  3. Nice review, Steve. Big fan of McGregor and Blunt here, so I think I'll eventually check this one out.

  4. Good one. I didn't enjoy this movie quite as much as you, but I guess we can both agree that it's not as uninteresting or boring as how people are posing it. Visually, at least, it's quite beautiful.