© 2012 Ray Wong
A long and weird title notwithstanding, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an interesting contemporary love story that touches on the Anglo-Middle Eastern relationship, politics, faith, salmons and everything in-between.
Harriet (Emily Blunt), an ambitious consultant in London contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fishery expert with an odd proposal: her client, Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) is interested in bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen. Afred thinks it's a preposterous joke, but Harriet is dead serious about it. After some coercing and a £50-million budget, Afred agrees to take on the "ridiculous" project just to appease his unreasonable boss and the Prime Minister's publicity secretary Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas), and to run away from his failing marriage with wife Mary (Rachael Stirling).
After meeting the Sheikh, however, Afred gains a new respect and perspective of what the Sheikh is trying to accomplish. The Sheikh is a man of faith, while Afred is a man of science. The project tests them both, as Afred has little faith in what he's doing and whether they would succeed, while the Shiekh has to deal with his fellow citizens who believe he is bringing disgrace into their sacred soil.
Meanwhile, the newly separated Afred is falling in love with Harriet, who is pining of her boyfriend Capt. Robert Mayers (Tom Mison), who is missing in action in Afghanistan.
Ewan McGregor (Beginners) has a knack for playing contemporary everyman who is earnest and, perhaps, a little dull. He does a fine job with the character of Afred, a man of science who feels stuck in his pedestrian life and is yearning for something more. He has excellent chemistry with Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau), who is radiant and lovely as Harriet. Together they make a great onscreen "will they or will they not" couple.
Kristin Scott Thomas (Love Crime) is in top form, showing off her comedic chops as the aggressive, no-holds-bar career woman. She doesn't have nearly enough screen time, but she makes it count and steals the show. Amr Waked (Contagion) is magnetic, charming and earnest as the Shiekh -- perhaps somewhat too politically correct. Tom Mison (One Day) is also earnest and charming as Capt. Mayers, and Tom Beard (Hereafter) gives a nice performance as Afred's insufferable boss.
Adapted from Paul Torday's novel by award-winning scribe Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), the screenplay has a generally light and airy tone to it, despite some of the more serious themes and topics. In fact, a humorous drama in nature, the story is rather uneven at times. Is it a love story? A political satire? A drama about science vs. faith? I'm not sure. The characters and relationships can be rather cliched and stereotypical as well.
What works well is the character development of the two main characters, Harriet and Afred. They're fully fleshed-out people and they have lives inside and outside of the story, and their relationships feel realistic and genuine. The development of the affection between them (don't get me wrong, they are instantly attracted to each other) is gradual, organic and authentic. That is the most satisfying aspect of the screenplay: Beaufoy is willing to take his time to develop that relationship. No rush.
The direction of Lasse Hallström (Dear John) is skillful and affecting. He has an eye for natural beauty, and the production is handsome and nearly "magical" at times. Hallström also takes his time for the plot and relationships to unfold. His unhurried pace suits the story very well.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a sweet, intelligent and lovely comedy with two great main characters. It also lacks a central villain, which I really like (aren't we tired of the obligatory good vs. evil in Hollywood already?) It's far from being flawless, but like salmon fishing in the Yemen, it feels fresh and original for a change.
Stars: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Tom Mison
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (based on novel by Paul Torday)
Distributor: CBS Films
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual content, and brief language.
Running Time: 111 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 8
Total - 7.6 out of 10.0