'Salmon Fishing in The Yemen'
If planning on fishing for salmon in the Middle East, especially in The Yemen, this film is for you. Granted, the title could narrow the audience to a very specific demographic, but it’s somewhat misleading. Sure, it’s accurately descriptive, but the film is so much more. The creative story lured us in with unusual characters constantly swimming upstream.
Based on the novel by Paul Torday, this far-fetched art house film is low key, intelligent and provocative. The characters are compelling and it keeps your interest with subtle themes of romance, faith and politics that integrate seamlessly into what is not just another fish story. If not able to see at the theater, rent or download when available.
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are brilliant in this story of Arab Sheikh Muhammed (Egyptian actor Amr Waked) who envisions his nation benefiting from an agricultural revolution that includes a new waterway stocked with salmon. He enlists Harriet (Blunt) as his project manager who circuitously enlists Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor), Britain’s leading fisheries expert, to successfully populate a newly engineered water system.
Harriet is capable, confident and headstrong, but her lover is deployed to Afghanistan. Fred is introverted and studious (a wimp), while mired in a loveless marriage. Fred’s expertise leads him to be highly skeptical of this project’s success. Salmon need a continuous stream of cold clear water not available in the hot arid desert.
Fred’s initial estimate places such a project at nearly 50 million British pounds. Who would invest so much in such a project? After all, there’s a fine line between fishing and just standing there drinking beer. Just kidding, serious fisherman, such as Fred and the Sheikh, build a lasting camaraderie in the peaceful waters with rod and reel in hand.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolate”), the desert and canyon scenes provide a pleasant and interesting backdrop. Slow and even pacing is not for everyone, but makes for an enjoyable experience with solid storytelling and smart crisp dialog from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”).
When Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas), the Prime Minister's over-the-top press secretary, senses a political opportunity, she brings the power of her government into the process. To complicate an already complex situation, this becomes an international project of goodwill. You know, “Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,” or something like that.
Filmed primarily in Morocco, this unlikely group will be angling through their emotional challenges to prove the impossible, possible. While Fred offers his expertise, the Sheikh provides inspiration and lessons on faith, while his countrymen may have differences of opinion regarding ways of the Western world. You might say there’s a whole lot of Sheikn going on. “Sorry,” which is what the Brits seem to say all too often in this script.
We expected superb performances from McGregor and Blunt, but were pleasantly surprised with the powerful but subtle presentation of Waked as His Excellency the Sheikh. As the trio works through this remarkable project, we’re reminded of the line in “Dumb and Dumber.” When Lauren Holly tells Jim Carrey his chances with her are one in a million, he concludes, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance, yeah!”
“Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” is 107 minutes and rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual content and brief language. Not the best title, but what’s in a name? When that Mervyn guy decided to name his retail store, it worked anyway, right? The premise is absurd, but so are the mega-projects on an even larger scale in such places as Dubai.
Other than fly fishing in an ecologically challenged geography, another theme is taking a leap of faith. So, if you do so for this story, you’ll be greatly rewarded. If you cannot take that leap, it might smell kinda fishy. The characters are charming and believable in a story that’s very well written and uplifting. So, we bought into it hook line and sinker.
Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B