Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas
Running Time: 106 mins
A slightly more Scottish than usual Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, a civil servant in the Department of Fisheries. Emily Blunt is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a consultant representing the interests of an oil rich Yemeni sheikh who wants to bring salmon fishing to the deserts of his homeland. Being a doctor and civil servant, Dr. Jones doesn’t take such poppycock seriously and sends his representatives on their merry way, but is hamstrung by politicians wanting a good news story from the Middle East. Here, the film comes to life a little, with Kristin Scott Thomas having so much fun as the Prime Minister’s press secretary that you forget you’re being asked to laugh at the trivialities of war and death. She’s a swearing, smoking joke machine, and props the first act of the film up until Amr Waked can show up to play Sheikh Muhammed.
Lumbered with all of the dialogue required to actually make the film mean something, Waked has a fairly thankless job, as even if he does it well, he’s a bludgeoning the audience with the movie’s themes. That he rises above this is a tribute to the skill and humility he brings to a character who seems absurd on paper: an oil rich Yemeni sheikh who wants to bring Salmon Fishing to the Yemeni deserts so people can all get along and have a little more faith. Seriously, that’s his ideology. It’s crazy and it’s blinkered, but he really, really believes it, and so do you after a while. He’s so good that the conversion of Ewan McGregor from Aspergers suffering skeptic into idiot romantic is almost believable. The word ‘almost’ is key here, as it aptly describes most aspects of this film.
It’s not just that the premise is mental or that the themes are unsubtle, or even that the two main characters are annoyingly inconsistent; it’s all these things together. If it were supposed to be a funny critique of political power play (and Kristin Scott Thomas does appear to be doing her best Malcolm Tucker impression), it fails when it tries to make it about faith. If it were about faith and a belief in something being important, then it’s ruined by dragging the wildly unnecessary love story to the fore in the final act. If it were a love story, it’s let down by the inconsistent characterisation and total absence of chemistry. It’s not a mess, but it’s not a good version of any of the above either.
Director Lasse Hallström tries his hardest to raise it above the sum of its parts, and despite strong supporting performances, he never quite succeeds. Ultimately, the film is much like the titular fish; agreeable and inoffensive, but not very challenging or adventurous.