From the beloved director of Chocolat and the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire comes the inspirational comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.Â A visionary sheik (Amr Waked) believes his passion for the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert.Â Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his representative (Emily Blunt) to turn the dream into reality, an extraordinary feat that will require the involvement of Britain's leading fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) who happens to think the project both absurd and unachievable.Â That is, until the Prime Ministerâs overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a 'good will' story. Â Now, this unlikely team will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules) has a knack for making mainstream films that are just quirky enough to be interesting, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is no exception.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen stars Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi himself from the Star Wars prequels) as Dr. Fred Jones, a man of numbers and science who works for Britain's Fisheries Commission who gets a proposal from a young woman named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt from The Adjustment Bureau) on behalf of a wealthy Sheikh (Syriana's Amr Waked), a man of deep faith. Basically, the Sheikh wants to indulge his love of fly fishing and create a salmon fishing river in his home country of Yemen. Fred immediately shoots down the proposal, citing scientific examples such as water temperature and lack of a sustainable ecosystem, but Harriet and the Sheikh are persistent and, needing some good news to report, the prime minister's press secretary Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas from The Other Boleyn Girl) leans on Fred to pursue the project. After learning that the Sheikh is willing to spare no expense, Fred and Harriet begin to see that the absurd plan may actually be possible, with a little bit of luck...and faith.
It's not fair to call Salmon Fishing in the Yemen a romantic comedy, because it's neither romantic nor comedic. Sure, it has its funny moments, and there is romantic tension between Fred and Harriet, but the real story is the dramatic tale of the fishing river project and the Sheikh. More than anything else, it is a film about science versus faith, with the doctor Fred believing that the idea is impossible and the Sheikh's belief in his plan giving him the courage to keep trying. The thread that holds the film together is the theme of swimming upstream, whether it's the literal swimming of the fish or the symbolic struggle of the project and its participants. There's a little of everything in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, from an underdog story to a political thriller, so it's difficult to pigeonhole into a succinct category. A few things are certain; the film is cleverly crafted, well acted and beautifully shot, and it's a story that hasn't been told before. And it breaks the stereotype of war and terrorism movies about the locale - at one point Press Secretary Maxwell says to her reporters, "we need a good story about the Middle East - a big one." Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is that good story.
Based on the novel by Paul Torday, the screenplay for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). Although the Sheikh's fishing dream is definitely the main plotline, the film also provides a couple of intriguing subplots, such as the tension between Fred and Harriet while their respective lovers are out of reach, the press secretary's scheme to alternately support and sabotage the project, and the political drama that unfolds in the Sheikh's country as his plan comes closer and closer to fruition. While the subplots are dependent on the main plot, they also serve well as independent storylines, and all three interweave together to form an intelligent and captivating film that does not come off as contrived or inorganic - everything makes sense, even the far-fetched elements (like importing cold water salmon to a desert area). Although the last act is a little too "Hollywood," the combination of Torday's book and Beaufoy's script are a great team, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is well written from all angles.
As a director, Lasse Hallstrom walks the thin line between capturing and creating; he's smart enough to let his competent actors do what they do best, yet inventive enough to find an interesting way to show them doing it. For example, in one scene where Fred is having a conversation with Harriet's boyfriend, Robert (Tom Mison from One Day), both men are in frame but the camera shifts focus back and forth between the two depending on who is speaking so that the pair is never in focus at the same time. This lets McGregor and Mison play the scene out, but also lets Hallstrom emphasize the distance between the two men while recognizing their commonalities. A similar selective focus technique is used to illustrate the growing gap between Fred and his wife, Mary (Still Crazy's Rachael Stirling), as they struggle with their failing marriage. Hallstrom seems to know he has a great cast, and uses his technical skill and talent to add exclamation points to their convincing performances. The stellar cast, solid script and experienced director all work together to make Salmon Fishing in the Yemen a thoroughly enjoyable film.
March 9, 2012