Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)
“The central message of faith is kept intact, yet the story will only appeal to romantics who enjoy the taste of sloppy cliché Hollywood seconds.”
GRADE: 3/5 Stars
by Richard Rey
Though Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’s (2012) sole intent is to help rekindle lost faith, its use of salmon fishing does anything but reel us in. The film opens with Miss Harriet Choturdle-Tolbert (Emily Blunt) typing an email to one Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) on behalf of a major client: a visionary sheikh who proposes salmon fishing in the Yemen. Dr. Jones (Fred), a fishery specialist for the English government, responds by saying the notion is fundamentally unfeasible. When Fred’s line manager receives an all too threatening call from the Prime Minister’s Press Officer, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), he leans on Fred leaving him two options: sign onto the project or sign his own letter of resignation. Fred concedes and meets with Harriet who is smitten by a military man she’s known all of three weeks.
At the meeting, Fred lashes out sarcastically presenting the problems one by one through stick figure-esque drawings and pre-school answers: salmon need water, there isn’t any bloody water in the Middle East. In spite of the fiery-tongued doctor’s presumptuous points, Harriet seems to have an answer for each and every doodle, forcing Fred to admit that though the project is nonsense, it works in theory.
Fred’s personal life is lived out in a flat with a wife who is so incredibly numb to his presence (even in bed) that it’s a wonder they’re still together at all. Her ambitions are not to settle down with him, but to free herself of him by moving to Geneva to further her career, something she doesn’t bother to tell him until she’s already packed to go. Fred handles his deepest concerns by throwing bits of bread to fish in his Koi pond – an image seared into my heart because of my own father’s way of dealing with besetting times.
Fred and Harriet are forced to work closely together and develop something of an unspoken, quiet friendship. They visit the sheikh, Muhammad bin Zaidi (Amr Waked), in the paradisiacal rocky deserts of the Yemen, and are there met by the tremendous faith that this man possesses.
Upon their return to Europe, Harriet’s canonical world comes to a standstill when she gets wind that her boyfriend has gone missing in action. The reaction of Blunt is memorable and the emotion real yet it is in nowise because the plot justifies it but rather comes as a result of the artifice in her craft being so carefully masked – only a teenage girl moonstruck with puppy love would cry this much over a man she knows so little of. It takes Fred a few phone calls, a homemade sandwich, a bottle of wine, and a bit of faith in Harriet to win her over as a friend – he does feel after all.
We flip back and forth between the UK and the Yemen following the project, at times befuddled wondering how we skipped so quickly from one continent to the next. Eventually, the sheik receives a visit from the highly outspoken dog eat dog minded Patricia Maxwell who insists that farm salmon will have to meet the needs of the project rather than wild ones from the rivers of Northern Europe. The sheikh is taken aback and calls off the project, the funding is frozen, and Fred resigns when he refuses to return to his office in the UK. All the while, the relationship between Harriet and Fred deepens, inhibitions are left behind, and the colleagues’ bond turns to unvoiced love. The connection between McGregor and Blunt is alive because it is grounded in honesty and builds subtly moment to moment.
As the final act of the film ensues, the highly energetic feel that makes the second act so incredibly vibrant is lost. The dialogue begins to lose its caviar-like zest and we are swept downstream by a current that takes us to the shores of a film we had banked so much on, yet winds up bankrupting us so terribly we haven’t the courage to withdraw. Clichés ensue as the Easterners of Yemen make an assassination attempt on the sheikh that’s disrupted in such an unrealistic way we can hardly hold down our popcorn. Further troubles lurk in murky waters when the dam is broken and when Harriet’s love interest is finally found. He’s flown to the Yemen, rather than home to his family, along with enough journalists to fill the press conference rooms shot in recent Christopher Nolan Batman films. The war hero emerges from the eastern dusts like an Expendable (which, undoubtedly, he is), and Harriet is forced to choose between the man she thought was dead, and the colleague she’s grown so deeply fond of.
Overall, the sheikh puts it best as he describes that it was never about the salmon to begin with – a statement that rings true only because the story is about faith, not fish, yet we wonder why the writers would see fit to use these bottom-feeding filthy creatures at all. Since we don’t get to know the Yemen people nor how the project will positively affect them, we are continuously unmoved, stagnant up a creek whose name isn’t fit to be mentioned here. The film tiptoes the line of magic and reality but commits to neither. The central message of faith is, however, kept intact, yet the story will only appeal to romantics who enjoy the taste of sloppy cliché Hollywood seconds.
Runtime: 107 mins
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Amr Waked
Written By: Simon Beaufoy, Paul Torday (novel)