Divorced, in debt, and stressed-out, tech company exec Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is already in the midst of a crisis when he's sent to Saudi Arabia to make a crucial presentation... to the king himself. With the IT contract for an entire new city riding on it but the king and his contacts impossible to get hold of, Alan's concerns begins to grow... especially when he finds a nasty lump on his back. His gung-ho driver (Alexander Black) is also a bit of a worry. But beguiling doctor Zahra (Sarita Chaudhury) proves a much more welcome distraction. Writer-director Tom Tykwer reteams with his Cloud Atlas star Hanks to engaging effect for this adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius).
Sidse Babett Knudsen
On the face of it, Dave Eggers' no-frills tale of a middle-aged suit flailing outside his comfort zone offers little for the director of the pulsating Run Lola Run and sci-fi head-twisters Heaven and Cloud Atlas to get his visionary teeth into.
You may ask yourself where Tykwer might find inspiration. But that becomes immediately obvious when Hanks' bursts on to the screen lip-syncing to the Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime in an MTV-style intro clearly prompted by Hanks' antics in the video for Carly Rae Jepson's I Really Like You.
But things soon settle down as Hanks' world-weary IT rep Alan packs up his troubles - acrimonious divorce, inability to pay his daughter's college fees, general lack of fulfillment - and takes them with him to Saudi Arabia, where he hopes to land a contract, by royal appointment, in the building of a new city.
Alan's weary worldview doesn't improve when he arrives to find his team languishing in a remote tent with limited food, wi-fi and air-con. No one knows when - or even if - the king's representative might appear. Let alone the king.
Fobbed off and frustrated, Alan finds sympathy from a vivacious Danish contractor (Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen) who does her best to accommodate his needs. All his needs... But Alan is determined to keep his focus, regardless of his own personal malaise.
However, with a little help from his happy-go-lucky driver Yousef (Black) and - following the discovery of a worrying growth on his back and a drunken attempt to remove it - intriguing hospital doctor Zahra (Chaudhury), Alan gradually regains his sense of purpose.
Although delivering the usual stranger-in-a-strange-land japes and metaphors of varying subtlety (holograms representing something tantalisingly close but impossible to reach), what raises the film beyond its wry amusements is the chemistry between Hanks and Chaudhury.
Credible and tender, it's a refreshingly mature relationship in a movie world dominated by cartoonish singletons and angst-ridden teens.
Not a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but a gently uplifting film that celebrates fresh starts and life's possibilities.