Film Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Having directed previous easy-to-digest, standard romantic fare such as Chocolat and Dear John, one can know what to expect with Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It is a simple work, bizarrely surrounding fish and international relations: Dr Alfred Jones – portrayed by a rather oddly placed Ewan McGregor – an expert in fisheries working for the British government, is called upon by consultant (and representative of a wealthy Yemeni sheikh) Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to introduce salmon fly-fishing to the deserts of Yemen in accordance with the vision of Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked). Alfred initially dismisses the idea as ridiculous, but eventually – after much pressure from the Prime Minister’s press secretary, the sharp Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) who wants to use the project as a press opportunity to show good Anglo-Arab relations in the midst of war, joins the project. He comes to believe in the project after spending time with Harriet and Sheikh Muhammad, and work towards the dream of bringing salmon fishing to Yemen.
Whilst I can understand a connection between man and nature when one fishes or farms, however the quasi-religious drivel about fishing that is hammered into the audience comes across as borderline silly in some scenes. Certain aspects about fishing – that seem that they have been added in obligatorily to fit with the theme – are misplaced and feel ridiculous, for example when a fishing rod saves a man’s life in an asinine attempted-assassination sequence; and in another scene when Blunt and McGregor share a sentimental moment around a fishing fly, noting its beauty. It feels completely forced and unnecessary, attempting to add drama and mystique to the practice of fishing, making parts of the film seem completely unbelievable.
McGregor feels somewhat out of place as an irritable middle-aged fisheries scientist, and his character seems a little all over the place. Blunt is plausible but uninspiring in her role as the obligatory torn woman in the midst of a love triangle. Waked, whilst interesting in some respects, is portrayed as a very saint-like character, which feels false at times. The real problem of the performances however surprisingly lies with Kristin Scott Thomas, normally a joy but in this film hammy. Eyes bulging and rolling, lips pursing, barking orders and remarks at everyone she interacts with – from work and at home – she is over-the-top and cringe worthy. In particular some instant messenger sequences between her character and the Prime Minister felt rather embarrassing and ridiculous.
There is some beautiful cinematography in the film, with picturesque visions of vast lakes in Scotland to the newly built river in the midst of the Yemeni desert, but some strange editing choices feel as if they do not belong in the film – usually in the earlier sequences during e-mails and phone calls, in which we see e-mails being typed above Blunt’s head in typographical style and in another sequence during a phone call in which each speaker is displayed simultaneously on either side of the screen, and one of the speakers’ ‘window’ pushes away the other side. It seems like it is trying to adopt a stylistic vision at first, but after the earlier sequences these stylistic quirks do not occur again and so the initial scenes feel odd.
Whilst this is a gentle film with a nice enough story, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a fairly cheesy, basic, forgettable rom-com with very diluted romance and comedy. It doesn’t offer enough and feels muddled, ending up boring its audience. It is something that one will probably see once, and never need to see again.