Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Lasse Hallström

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Lasse Hallström
It may speak more to the changing landscape of film and audience expectation than to Hallström's approach to filmmaking, but about 20 years ago, he was a legitimate director whose work was respected. But ever since Chocolat, he's made only formulaic, saccharine tripe that demonstrates a technical aptitude for the medium and an understanding of sappy Hallmark conventions, but little in complexity or auteur growth. It's as though he already expressed what he needed to in his youth and has since remained on artistic autopilot to pay the bills.

This might explain why his adaptation of Paul Torday's clever political satire, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, was modified from its acerbic roots into an overly sweet and contrived romantic comedy about faith and the importance of hope.

Superficially, the surly Brit archetype protagonist, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a government fisheries bureaucrat, remains the same, mocking a proposal by academic consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) to migrate salmon to the Yemen for an eccentric millionaire Sheikh (Amr Waked). He starts out with the necessary patronizing tone, pointing out the differences in temperature and environment that make such a project ludicrous in scope, much like the British Prime Minister's spokesperson, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), who cynically exploits the project to leverage the image of British/Yemen relations.

But aside from a few choice, flippant comments made by Thomas about the artifice of political process and exploiting the fishing community (if they can read), the barbed commentary is ignored in favour of the growing romance between Harriet and Alfred.

Since both characters are in respective relationships – Alfred with a frigid partner and Harriet with a presumed dead soldier – the arc becomes that of following one's heart regardless of social expectation, as mirrored by the Sheikh's religious babbling about fishing mirroring faith. The entire thing is laughably contrived, but McGregor and Blunt manage to make it all tolerable by rounding out their characters and being genuinely charming, likable people.

Had these charismatic actors not injected so much life into a stale story, or had Kristin Scott Thomas not been so coolly hilarious as a potty-mouthed shrew, this mediocre romantic comedy could easily have been as dreadful as Hallström's last humdrum effort, Dear John.

Instead, Salmon Fishing is watchable and inherently pleasant, even though it's patronizing and bland. (Alliance)