Salmon Fishing in the Yemen For those who miss the romance and British humour of "Notting Hill" (1999) but don't mind its setting moved to the desert, there is much to cheer for, if not to be surprised by, in the aptly titled "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" by director Lasse Halstrom (The Cider House Rules). This film could very well be unforgivingly humdrum in other hands but the capable direction and colorful exoticism in the location makes it a breezy enjoyment.
Granted there are no groundbreaking casting choices here. Ewan McGregor plays Fred Jones, a nervous salmon expert with Asperger's apparently, (although I missed the clues) and Kristin Scott Thomas plays Patricia Maxwell, a press secretary to the British PM. Maxwell is given a push for some good publicity, given the hopelessness of Afghanistan and sets to work. Salmon fishing in Yemen? Who would have thought? I'm no Simon Beaufoy, the writer and Academy Award winner of "Slumdog Millionaire" , I know, but you would have to be a fakir to see this coming.
Cinema appears even stranger than printed fiction.
Dr. Fred Jones contacts a Ms. Talbot (Emily Blunt) an aide to the salmon visionary, who happens to be a Yemeni sheik.
Sparks fly between McGregor and Blunt in a pleasant, yet fiery way that recall the best of Spencer Tracy / Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant/ Ingrid Bergman pairings, with an added dash of Monty Python. The two have a facile grace between them and they are fun to watch.
The only times that Fred became insufferable were the moments at the Koi pond. I fear that McGregor is becoming a bit typecast for his melancholic and somewhat masochistic roles here. And I did not get a sense of any Asperger's at all.
It is the more zen than Islamic Sheik (Amr Waked) who steals the show, however, and makes all this holistic fishing and back and forth handwringing worth it. Actor Waked colors his sheik with a verve and a soft spoken grace that carries with it the best of all " The Arabian Nights". Sheik Muhammed is full of fun, but he is no indigo pencil sketch or cartoon. His gravity has an authentic bearing that will make you believe that peace is as much of an attainment as is the chaos of war. Muhammad's eyes actually pinwheel and dance and you can see the light in them. The Sheik, despite his harmonies of opinion, remains the most entertaining character in the film.
I do feel the story is a bit too easy and pleasant with a fishing philosophy that seems taken from of "A River Runs Through It"---that's a given---, but for all its familiarity in which everyone "gets along" and "relaxes with faith and fish" , Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" will delight the heart, if not the mind with its light charms