The Good: Interesting concept, Good acting, Moments of characters
The Bad: Pacing issues, Moments when characters seem like “types” as opposed to individuals
The Basics: In another film ruined by the trailer, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen puts two unlikely people together to create a miracle in the desert.
As a movie reviewer, there are numerous films that I have ample opportunities to go see films, usually well-before they open to wide release. Sometimes, I forego the opportunity, especially since I moved to Michigan and getting to the various screenings is a bit harder for me than it was in New York. One of the films I had at least a dozen opportunities to see was Salmon Fishing In The Yemen and I just never did. I heard the premise and when I saw the preview trailer for the movie, I felt like it was one where the entire movie was shown in the trailer. And, for the most part, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is given away in its entirety by the trailer.
That said, the elements that are not in the trailer are the largely extraneous elements of the film, which is based upon a book I have not read. In many of my reviews, I refer to “pacing” as an issue with a movie and pacing is an issue with Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. I feel compelled to note that “pacing” does not mean the movie is long or even that it feels especially long, but if it moves along at an irregular clip, that becomes a serious issue with how the movie is assembled, how it is paced. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is very much a film where the pacing is an issue in that by the time the film resolved everything the viewer seriously cares about, there is half an hour more material to go. Unfortunately, the last half hour of the film is an anchor that takes an enjoyable concept that sped along and beats the story and characters to death. The only redeeming value to the last half hour is that the film shows the consequences of the execution of the premise, as opposed to simply setting the idea up, playing it out and leaving it without any sense of value at the end.
After Dr. Alfred Jones rejects Harriet’s request to help a Sheikh bring salmon fishing to the Middle East, the UK’s foreign press office gets ahold of the request. Eager to distance themselves from the United States in the wake of the beginning of the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan, the press secretary, Patricia Maxwell, leaps on the idea and begins promoting it. When Jones is forced to take a meeting with Ms. Chetwode-Talbot at Fitzharris and Price, he is stymied by how prepared she and Sheikh Muhammed actually are to proceed. Threatened with being fired from his cushy government job, Jones takes on the herculean task of aiding in the Yemeni Salmon Project.
When Harriet’s boyfriend is called out to Afghanistan, she and Jones begin working together. His snarky attitude about the project leads to initial friction between the two. But, as his relationship with his wife falls apart, he finds the opportunity in the Yemen forced upon him by Maxwell, who needs the positive Anglo-Yemen story for the Prime Minister’s office. As the project progresses, Harriet and Alfred work together and take meetings with various engineers, fish experts, and financers from around the world to make the dream in Yemen a reality! When Harriet’s boyfriend goes M.I.A., Fred and Harriet find themselves saved by Sheikh Muhammed’s vision.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is a mess of “will they or won’t they” conceits. Continued interest in the film is based upon dragging out the answers to the questions: will they or won’t they? Will Alfred join the project or not? Will Fred’s incompetent boss actually find salmon they can use? Will Robert’s body be found? Will Alfred leave his wife? Will the salmon swim? The concept is not at all a new one, but Salmon Fishing In The Yemen does seem especially loaded with the conceit.
As much as it is a story of an ambitious project and ridiculous public relations nightmare, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is a contrived romance that utilizes its setting, if not its characters, especially well. Given that Alfred is instantly characterized as a humorless, empirical science-based man who uses logic instead of faith, his journey is obvious and contrived, even without the element of Robert. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, like Quarantine (reviewed here!) becomes another film where the movie is actually ruined by the movie poster (or DVD cover); the casual, obvious camaraderie of Alfred and Harriet in the moment captured for the promotional materials, it makes it clear that there is an unlikely friendship, at the very least, in the movie. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen might not have been so blasé had the film made an effort to have Harriet or Alfred take on a mentor role as opposed to an obvious romantic relationship.
The acting in Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is good. Ewan McGregor appears with a thicker accent than ever before and he is convincing. Emily Blunt is fine as Harriet, but she is never convincing in the film as a lawyer. Harriet is a fine-enough character, but she is a lawyer and that aspect of her character is severely neglected in favor of making her a pretty face and an obvious love interest for the apparently cold-hearted Fred. Amr Waked plays the revolutionary Sheikh Muhammed with a subtlety that is appropriate and well-conceived. The role of press secretary Patricia Maxwell is one of Kristin Scott Thomas’s less-inspired roles.
On DVD, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen has two featurettes: one on the making of the film, the other on the novel and its transition to film. Neither are at all incredible. Then again, while Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is not bad, it is not an incredible film, either.
For other works with Emily Blunt, please visit my reviews of:
The Adjustment Bureau
Charlie Wilson’s War
Dan In Real Life
The Devil Wears Prada
Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed in my Index Page where movies are organized from best to worst of all time!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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