Blu-ray Review: ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ Follows Feel-Good Formula

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CHICAGO – “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a romantic comedy so lightweight that it threatens to float off into the ether. It has perhaps the least gripping title since Ingmar Bergman’s “Sawdust and Tinsel,” which is strange since the rest of the production reeks of commercial calculation. Yet the film is based on Paul Torday’s book of the same name, so the studio must have considered the title marketable.

There’s perhaps no film more difficult to make than a good crowd-pleaser. It’s easy to manufacture phony uplift. The trick is for the director to guide an audience’s emotions in a way where they don’t feel manipulated. That’s where the element of surprise comes into play. If the audience is perched on the edge of their seats, while delighting in the character’s increasingly loony plight, they will likely embrace whatever the script has in store for them. Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has proven to be a master of crowd-pleasers, having served as the scribe for rousing Fox Searchlight classics such as “The Full Monty” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” But “Yemen” lacks a compelling enough story to spark the audience’s interest. It’s difficult to care about Sheikh Muhammed (Egyptian superstar Amr Waked) and his mad plan to enrich the lives of his people through salmon fishing. That’s because the film makes no attempt to illustrate the enriching power of fishing. Instead, the Sheikh rattles off some fortune cookie wisdom while mystical Middle Eastern melodies accompany his words (courtesy of Dario Marianelli’s overdone score). As indicated in the dialogue, fishing is merely a metaphor for the faith that people utilize when attempting to transform their lives. It’s the faith that will help British fisheries expert Alfred (Ewan McGregor at his fussiest) leave his boring life and abandon his boring wife in favor of helping the Sheikh bring his well-meaning but wildly impractical vision to life. Though Alfred spends the first half of the film acting like an uptight priss, he experiences a dramatic shift in personality after exchanging some inspiring words with the Sheikh. While walking in a grim crowd of Brits, Alfred suddenly turns to walk in the opposite direction, as an overhead camera causes him to resemble a fish swimming upstream. To emphasize the importance of this moment, Alfred’s turn occurs in slow motion. And then, like magic, he’s suddenly cuddly and charming—the perfect match for the Sheikh’s radiant representative, Harriet (Emily Blunt).

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 17, 2012.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 17, 2012.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Director Lasse Hallström has made some wonderfully rich character studies throughout his career, notably 1985’s “My Life as a Dog” and 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” In recent years, however, Hallström has turned to more commercially palatable material populated by characters too harmless and airbrushed to be recognizably human. “Yemen” isn’t as lame as “Dear John,” but it’s certainly in the vein of a pleasant trifle like “Chocolat.” What nearly saves the picture is Blunt’s pitch-perfect portrayal of a woman whose heart is split between the reformed Albert and her old flame missing in action. As Harriet struggles to contain her emotions, Blunt draws the audience in by conveying a wealth of conflicting emotions through her enormously expressive eyes. She’s so good that one wishes the plot had gotten out of her way. Alas, in order to up the tension on the admittedly inconsequential plot, Beaufoy resorts to a series of over-the-top dramatic constructs, including a plot twist straight out of Michael Bay’s awful “Pearl Harbor.” Offering potential glimmers of relief is Kristin Scott Thomas as the Prime Minister’s bitchy cartoon of a press secretary (even her IM photo looks severe). Thomas works hard to generate some comic energy, but like most things in “Yemen,” she just misses the boat.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English and Spanish subtitles and includes two brief featurettes. Since climate change has caused once-thriving areas of Morocco to resemble a parched desert, the crew had little trouble filming the Yemen sequences there. There’s some amusing footage of the actors looking downright amateurish as they attempt to fish for the cameras. Blunt dubs Harriet “the nicest character she’s ever played,” and claims that the picture was her favorite job to date. In a quickie interview, Torday says that his book was inspired by his love of fishing and his work in the oil industry, which naturally gave him a familiarity with the Middle East. He was moved by the importance of religion in the lives of Middle Easterners, and indeed wanted the salmon to serve as a metaphor for faith. Too bad Hallström lays on the metaphor so thick that it could turn even the least cynical audience member into a non-believer.

‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Mison, Catherine Steadman and Tom Beard. It was written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Lasse Hallström. It was released on July 17, 2012. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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