Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was perhaps my most anticipated film voyage as of late apart from maybe Perks of Being a Wallflower. The British film is based off of a novel of the same name by Paul Torday. It premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and achieved widespread release in 2012. The premise is eccentric and endearing. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are the dream team of charm. And there is something romantic to me about salmon. I want to start this review of “Salmon Fishing” the way one of my favorite movies 500 Days of Summer began. This is the story of a boy meets movie, “but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”
A fisheries expert is approached by a consultant to help realize a sheik’s vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert and embarks on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible possible.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is presented via trailer as a love connection between the fisheries expert, Alfred, (Ewan McGregor) and a consultant, Harriet (Emily Blunt). Something that the trailer does not present but becomes immediately apparent in the movie is that Alfred is married and Harriet has a boyfriend whom is a soldier. I immediately groaned. My instincts told me that this supposed love connection was probably not going to be a love connection at all, but a love clustersadness. I hate it when I’m right. The suspense of Alfred and Harriets romance arrises from the fact that they are torn between their other love interests. Love triangles make me want to Hulk-smash. However the characters in this movie are almost sympathetic enough to make the love interests reasonable and plausible. Almost.
One of the most gratifying aspects of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was the scenery. The Yemen scenes were filmed in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. The mountains are peaceful, unique, and calming. The sudden transplantations between England and Yemen provided wonderful contrast. The Great Britain scenes are split between London and the hills of Scotland. The hills of Scotland are particularly stunning. I have never wanted to become an outdoorsman so much in my life. In my younger days I used to enjoy bass fishing at our neighborhood pond. I like to think that if I was fly fishing in the foothills of Scotland I might have stuck with it.
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt have no chemistry. There I said it. I know right? It is hard to believe. Their connection to me just seemed completely platonic. I never bought it for a nanosecond. Alfred’s conviction throughout the film was agonizingly weak. Harriet’s spirit nonexistent. It is unfortunate that my expectations for this film were sky high. The film was definitely closer to average than poor. But average was more than enough to crush my hopes and dreams for the flick.
I believed the two most memorable acting performances of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen were Amr Waked as Sheikh Muhammed and Kristin Scott Thomas as press secretary Patricia Maxwell. The Sheikh is philosophical and inspiring. It would have been easy for Amr to overact and come off like a cheeseball. Mr. Waked in fact was cheeseless and quite mesmerizing in his delivery and elegance. He made the ludicrous idea of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen believable and uplifting. Kristin Scott Thomas was the sole provider of legitimate comedy in the film. Her portrayal as the workaholic, “do it all”, high strung, and ruthless press secretary was classic. Her quick dialogue whips were fully-automatic. My favorite scene with the press secretary was one which featured her brutally trash talking her son in a video game bout.
The “antagonist” in “Salmon Fishing” is a vague terrorist organization convinced that Sheikh Muhammed (the man trying to bring salmon fishing to Yemen) is trying to westernize Yemen. To respond to this they attempt assassinations and project sabotage. These conflicts were unwarranted in my opinion. They did not fit the central theme to me. They also seemed to undo the positive message of Middle Eastern collaboration that I so eagerly wanted to embrace. The side story of the British government collaborating with the Yemen Sheikh was indeed refreshing. But the film sadly turned it into the Sheikh versus his people.
Salmon Fishing in Yemen can be credited with trying to transcend its plot. There are plenty elements of environmentalism and political commentary. A true appreciation of nature and it’s healing capacity can be seen. The support for the salmon project originates from the desire of the British to find a positive story from the Middle East. I dare say the U.S. could use some of that as well. I wish the movie could have spent more time on these themes instead of stumbling about for romance. This spot-on quote I found on Rotten Tomatoes reiterates my frustrations.
Kristal Cooper – “As it stands, the best elements of the film become mired in the unwelcome narrative muck, branding Salmon Fishing in the Yemen the one that got away.”
The offbeat trailer that combined humor, romance, and salmon had me salivating for popcorn. The promise of crisp, original storytelling caused my disappointment with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor represent classy Hollywood talent. But “Salmon Fishing” for me was an upstream battle.