Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)
Release Date: March 23rd, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Lasse Hallström Actors: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Tom Mison, Rachael Stirling, Conleth Hill
almon Fishing in the Yemen” features delightful characters portrayed by perfectly cast actors, steadily amusing humor (quaint but never of the laugh-out-loud variety), and a smart script (by Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Slumdog Millioniare”). Yet despite the successes of these integral elements, the subject matter is just temperate enough and the comedy just static enough for the film to be rather uninspiring. The themes and revelations are all handled with such a mild touch that while it entertains on first viewing, it’s certainly not a game-changer for any of the genres it dabbles in. It’s a film that will be briefly appreciated and then forgotten.
Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) is an investment consultant for the international division of Fitzharris and Price. Her chief concern is with the ludicrously wealthy sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked), who wishes to bring the sport of salmon fishing to the desert lands of Yemen, an Asian country on the southern border of Saudi Arabia. Harriet’s initial inquiries into the feasibility of such an undertaking lead her to fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who scoffs at the ridiculous idea. Even when the sheikh transfers 50 million pounds to fund the project, Jones can’t shake the notion that they’re part of an elaborate, lavish practical joke.
Complications, disagreements, and obstacles are immediate, even when money is boundless. An unexpected unity of British fishermen prevent Jones from acquiring the 10,000 live salmon he needs to import, while Yemeni religious objectors threaten Muhammad’s life – even after they unexpectedly secure engineers to assist with a dam to solve the water problem and construct transportation to keep the fish alive. Alfred is also exasperated by his pedestrian wife (Rachael Stirling), a bumptious line producer (Conleth Hill), and growing feelings for Harriet. She in turn becomes distracted from the assignment to mourn the departure of her military boyfriend Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison).
The film’s worst offense is that it’s consistently pleasant but never revolutionary. Even during moments of tragedy, the audience is stuck in a neutral mode of passive observance, not emotional involvement. The characters are surprisingly quirky, funny, believable and entertaining – especially the scene-stealing Kristin Scott Thomas as Patricia Maxwell, the prime minister’s press officer. Regardless of how well written or unconventionally fleshed out these creations are, their impact is one of cursory lasting power – a result of charm and cheer heaped onto a story of inconsequential substance, much like the eccentric sheikh’s plight. It’s hard to sympathize with a billionaire spending unlimited funds for his own enjoyment, even if he justifies it with notions of positive change, betterment of a community, or an Anglo-Yemeni cooperative legacy.
– Mike Massie