Salmon Fishing In The Yemen totally misses the boat
Lasse Hallström could have made a satirical, Ealing-style comedy, but instead his new film is simply corny froth.
The Guardian, Sat 14 Apr 2012
More Field Of Dreams than Field And Stream, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen urges us to dream big, no matter how silly or ridiculous the dream in question may be, and to swim against the current in the fearless and indomitable manner of its titular pink delicacy. In other words, it’s just another damn Lasse Hallström movie, with much of the satiric energy of Paul Torday’s much wiser and sharper novel drained off and replaced by the kind of corn that you expect from a surging-strings sentimentalist like Hallström.
Not that the elements for success don’t abound: there are strong performances from well-cast and likable players such as Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas giving it the Mach 4, sit-up-straight aristocratic routine. Not only that, the source novel definitely looked like a workable prospect adaptation-wise, even with its largely epistolary structure, pseudo-textbooky title and deliberately ridiculous premise; it was politically clued-in to the byways of British bureaucracy, wise to the ways of the fish and the fly, and blessed with a brighter, more optimistic view of the Middle East than is currently fashionable. Much of this flavour and intelligence has been jettisoned by Hallström and his screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, or perhaps just carelessly mislaid in translation. At any rate, it’s gone, and the absence is palpable if you’re familiar with the novel.
I’m hardly one to complain about Scandinavians invading the British movie industry (most of my favourite British movies weren’t made by Britons at all), especially after such Scandi-helmed delights as Breaking The Waves or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But Hallström no longer brings a Swedish sensibility to his movies; what he brings is an entirely generic and middlebrow Hollywood style, neutered by years of executives’ idiotic notes and brutal test screenings, and hobbled by his tendency to work everything up into Stephen Daldry-style Oscar-bait froth.
You wonder what another director might have made of it. Actually, I have a friend, a British film-maker, who was in line to direct Salmon Fishing early on, and what he suggested didn’t sound a lot like what I finally saw. Somewhere in the novel lie the makings of a very mild-mannered, eccentric, neo-Ealing comedy – The Man In The White Suit, with rods and reels, sheikhs and terrorists – many of its delights having to do with the fondness that develops between two emotionally undemonstrative English people. All through the movie, instead of gorging myself on Hallström’s sugar, I was thinking what Bill Forsyth might have made of this material, with its occasional sharp thrusts and moments of nasty, sobering clarity amid the delicate laughter? In the end I realised that, with Local Hero, he’d already made it.