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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)

| March 31, 2012 | 0 Comments

Just in case you were wondering, there is no salmon fishing in Yemen.  That’s the whole point of Lasse Hallstrom’s twee British comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen about the insanity of a project between the British and Yemini politicians to help build a stream in the middle of the desert in an effort to bring salmon fishing to the region.  Doesn’t that part of the world have enough problems?

That question seems to be floating around in the brain of Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) a fly fishing expert who works for the British Fisheries and has such vast knowledge of the sport that he has designed and named his own flies.  The look on his face is priceless when he gets information that this bizarre project is put together at the whim of an extremely wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) who is so passionate about fishing that it has worked its way into his deepest philosophies about life (and he has plenty).

The sheikh has spent a great deal of money to build a dam that will convert the water through the desert so he can have the means to bring salmon fishing there.  All he needs is for good Dr. Alfred to provide him with the salmon – of which Britain have plenty.  Whether the fish will be able to survive in a desert climate is a challenge that only an expert can overcome.  His plan isn’t totally selfish, he wants the project to enrich the lives of the people of his country.  We like the sheikh.  He is a handsome authoritative middle-eastern chap who contains a mind full of poetry and wisdom.  He has an approach to life that seems so good-natured and so peaceful, that you wonder why he isn’t working as a good-will ambassador.

Dr. Alfred is called onto the project by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), an English woman who is hired to handle the sheikh’s financial end of the project.  In order to get funding from the British government he needs help from the Prime Minister, a doddering clod whose brainwork is best left to his fast-talking PR director Patricia Maxwell (Kristin-Scott Thomas) who sees the project as a perfect good-will public relations diversion when the British military forces create a blunder that results in a tragic incident at a mosque.

In the midst of his daffy plot lies an inevitable blossoming romance between Alfred and Harriett.  They are two nice, good-hearted people bound together by what they are doing, but frustrated by the fact that they cannot avoid their feelings for one another.  The frustration comes from the fact that he is married and she has a boyfriend in the military who has just gone missing in Afghanistan.

These are two of the nicest people you’re ever likely to meet in a movie, so you know they are destined to fall in love.  Ewan McGregor plays a role that Alec Guinness might have played half a century ago – an affable, nose-to-the-grindstone professional who finds himself in over his head.  Emily Blunt plays a professional woman who turns to Jones when her boyfriend goes missing.  What comes of the plot involving the boyfriend ends with a kind of arbitrary emptiness.  We hardly get to know him at all.

I think the love story cuts into the more interesting plot about the salmon.  If it were better developed I wouldn’t mind, but this is one of those comedies that tries to find a way to get the lovers out of their current relationships by establishing relationships that seemed doomed from the start.  Dr. Jones’ marriage is doomed to fail the moment we meet his wife.  They have reached a form of marital stalemate where their love making ends with her telling him “Well . . . that should hold you for a while.”  Harriet is dating Robert, a soldier that she hasn’t known very long.  This seems so convenient that you’re wondering why the plot didn’t just have the lovers be single in the first place.  Then let the salmon plot be the drama.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is based on a book by Paul Torday, a political satire about the relations between the British and the Yemeni, which was extremely popular in Britain. It has been adapted by Simon Beaufoy, the screenwriter behind good films like The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire,127 Hours and the forthcoming Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire. Here I think his script stumbles a bit. The plot involving the transferring of the salmon is fascinating.  I have to admit that I have never seen anything like it, and I’ve never seen a movie that attempts to convincingly create such a bizarre scenario.

The movie is very funny on that level, but I think when it tries to get serious, it gets a little dull.  Long stretches of the movie are given over the meaningful dialogue that clashes with the more upbeat tone of the insanity of what Alfred and Harriett are working on. My advice would have been to completely scrap the romance angle an just turn it into a whacky comedy about the political mayhem between the two countries, That might have made a very funny movie, on par with Dr. Strangelove. As it stands, the film moves uneasily between the comedy and the more seroius stuff. I would say that I enjoyed myself while I was watching it, but when it came to balancing the serious material and the more silly element, I kept wishing that the movie would go one way or the other.


About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy