This seemingly mundane story is both fascinating and moving.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a surprisingly charming and entertaining movie that shouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is. The premise concerns an eccentric fisheries expert (not an exciting occupation), a billionaire sheikh from Yemen, and the sport of fly fishing which, despite the efforts of several sportsmen’s channels, hasn’t exactly become America’s pastime. However, in the hands of director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), this seemingly mundane story is both fascinating and moving.
Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is one of the foremost game and wildlife authorities in Great Britain. Well, he’s brilliant, but his authority barely exceeds his small cubicle in the vast government bureaucracy in which he whiles away his time. He spends his days in wonder at nature’s beauty and trying to avoid conversations with his inept boss. When a terrible crisis in the Middle East erupts, Jones finds himself assigned to an outlandishly absurd project which insults his ethics as a scientist.
Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) is one of Yemen’s royalty and an avid salmon fisher. The trouble is, he has to travel all the way to England in order to indulge in his hobby. To circumvent this headache, he decides to introduce salmon fishing to Yemen, despite a severe lack of a hospitable environment for the fish—i.e., water. Jones is sent to meet with the sheikh’s PR consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), to discuss the project. Jones tells her that the idea is ludicrous and would cost at least $50 million just for initial plans. Ms. Chetwode-Talbot doesn’t bat an eye and says that won’t be a problem. Despite his pessimism and certainty of the project’s failure, Fred agrees to serve as fisheries expert for the endeavor.
One of the reasons the film works so well is the terrific performances by the incredibly talented cast. McGregor is brilliantly spot-on as the uptight Dr. Alfred Jones. Jones’ stiffness and arrogance would normally make a character unbearable, but McGregor’s commitment to playing a man with no sense of humor is hilarious. McGregor gives one of his finest performances and is integral to the movie’s success. Blunt is the perfect balance to McGregor. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (her name is one of the film’s best running gags) is laidback and easygoing, making her that much more frustrating to Jones. Blunt is adorable as the chatty PR rep, but is equally engaging when Harriet suffers a terrible tragedy of her own.
The best performance in the film, however, is the magnificent Kristin Scott Thomas who plays the crass, bossy Minister of Don’t-Look-There-Look-Over-Here. She plays her part with the perfect blend of energy and dominance, making her intimidating as some of the worst bosses in film history. Known for her more serious roles, Scott Thomas delivers some of the movie’s funniest lines and is easily the most memorable character.
Hallstrom has made a career out of delivering emotionally moving films that have a wickedly understated sense of humor, and Salmon Fishing is no exception. The film operates in a style all its own, gliding through the story in an almost dreamlike state. Beaufoy’s script, based on the novel by Paul Torday, is witty, but never slight. The characters are perfectly drawn and give the actors plenty of room to play and develop. One of the most wonderful aspects of the film, though, is the beautiful cinematography by Terry Stacey (Adventureland), who captures magnificent images of everything from a barren landscape to the overcrowded streets of London.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is funny and poignant and will surprise audiences with its many layers and impact. | Matthew Newlin