Movies: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This movie is ostensibly based on an absurdist novel, but while it had its moments, I wouldn't say the absurdity filtered through all that much. Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, some kind of government expert on fish, and Emily Blunt plays Harriet, representative of a rich sheikh's interests—in this case, the interest being salmon fishing.

The sheikh has expended a great amount of money having a dam built in his home country so that he may create a body of water in which to fish. Dr. Jones gets dragged in to oversee the fishy side of things by Harriet and various others because, due to political pressures, the British government is determined to create a bit of "good news" about relations between the UK and Middle East. Even if it means stooping to help a rich sheikh get some salmon.

Sure, the plot sounds ridiculous, but in the film it is played almost too straight to be really funny. Viewers must rely on Dr. Jones's repeated protestations and avowals of how ridiculous the idea is to get any sense of absurdity. And he doth protest too much, of course; soon enough he finds himself installed in Yemen and invested in the success of the project.

There's a modest love story between Harriet and Dr. Jones that lacks any real chemistry. And the sheikh spends his time spouting analogies and talking about faith. There is one truly absurd moment in which Dr. Jones lives up to his namesake (i.e., Dr. Indiana Jones) by using a fishing rod as a kind of whip to stop a would-be assassin. And there is a last-ditch terrorism plot point that comes out of nowhere and fails to add any tension to the film.

Still and all, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a cute film. I didn't hate it. I just didn't love it, either. It somehow failed to live up to the sum of its parts, by which I mean despite solid actors and what could have been a really funny story (they would have needed to play up the buffoonery of the government, I think, but that would have detracted from quality star time on the screen) the movie meanders downstream, ever guided in the direction it is meant to flow, but lazy in execution.

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