Film Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Since first leaving the theater after watching Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, I’ve been describing it to friends as Indiana Jones done as a British comedy.  While it does not necessarily borrow only the limitations and drawbacks of these styles, it does not blend them well, and it overreaches in its ambitions.  Resultantly, the movie suffers from a lack of identity.  In spite of this, Kristin Scott Thomas’s excellent performance, the film’s dry humor, and its naïve hopefulness make it likable

Dr. Fred Jones (not kidding – Dr. Jones) (Ewan McGregor), a government researcher in the fisheries department is asked by Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (not kidding) (Emily Blunt), who represents Yemeni Sheikh Muhammad (not kidding), to help with a project to introduce salmon and salmon fishing to the Yemen River.  Despite categorically refusing this ludicrous proposal, he quickly finds himself embroiled in the plan at the demand of his boss.

In addition to its nebulous identity, flat characters emerge as another weak point in the movie.  Though the three reasonably well-drawn, central characters engage the audience, their counterparts and opposing forces serve only as such.  These come in the form of Jones’s distant, cold wife, Chetwode-Talbot’s boyfriend, away in the military, and a band of nameless terrorists opposed to the Sheik’s “western” plan to popularize salmon fishing in Yemen.  Frankly, the treatment of the terrorists feels silly and reeks of racism.  But moreover, all of these three components feel shallow and only have life as pieces of the main characters.

Because the film involves so many disparate pieces, story lines, and characters involved in unusual efforts, it sacrifices the ability to sufficiently address each of its many facets.  This hurrying leads to a lack of development and a hollowness at some of the most pivotal parts of the plot, especially the final scenes.

Even with its flaws, the movie’s positive spirit and solid acting make it enjoyable to watch.  McGregor and Blunt possess an endearing chemistry on screen and both play their parts well, even if somewhat too dramatically.  However, Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance as the determined and calculating press secretary to the prime minister dominates the script.  She alone seems to capture the outrageous, comedic absurdity of the film from its premise through its execution.  Thomas, through manipulating the prime minister, Dr. Jones, Ms. Chetwode-Talbot, and exploiting the project at the film’s center, acts as the wizard behind the curtain of this confused British adventure-dramedy.

For innovative screenwriting and story telling, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen isn’t your movie.  However, if you’re seeking an enjoyable escape from your own thoughts and can tolerate the light, hurried treatment of the plot’s elements, the movie may be worth watching.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.
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