Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Paul Torday (novel)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as interesting as a movie about fishing could possibly be, which is a back-handed compliment but also a true one. It is the story of the wealthy Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked) and his desire to bring salmon to his native part of Yemen. This is absurd to the scientist Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who is approached by the sheik’s consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) as well as pressured by the British government, to make this vision come true.
There are many technical and ecological obstacles that stand in the way of the sheik’s plan, none of which are made very hazardous or interesting. This is because the main point of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not that there are two likeable people trying to overcome outrageous odds, but rather that they and the sheik must meet in the ideological and cultural middle to do so. Alfred is obviously very logic based, though he’s stuck doing a task for a man who is relying heavily on faith and destiny. Since that man has substantial funds, Harriet is happy to play the middlewoman between them.
Other forces conspire to both profit and hinder this fishing endeavor, the most prominent of which is British Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas). She sees this as an opportunity to get some good PR in the Middle East to detract from news of explosions and war. Scott Thomas digs into this viper of a woman with relish, and gives the movie much needed life.
As well-intentioned and competently directed as the movie is by Lasse Hallström, it is dull. Nothing ever feels at risk until an unfortunate terrorism subplot is tacked on, and the intellectual debate is neither given enough time to flourish nor interesting enough to warrant that missing time. The screenplay, adapted by Simon Beaufoy from the novel by Paul Torday, stalls on the inevitable romance between Alfred and Harriet until the last possible moment. Both of them have prior relationship commitments, but the movie likely had to be marketed as a love story between them for any hope of a release.
For a movie about passion and faith, Salmon Fishing feels almost cold to the touch at times, though. Blunt’s performance is the movie’s most emotionally engaging one because she’s made to deal with the death of her boyfriend and finds solace in the project. As well done as McGregor’s work is, his awkward scientist just isn’t as interesting. Their chemistry together is good enough, and so is the movie by book adaptation standards. By filmmaking standards, though, it is a tedious, boring movie that is unsure what it wants to be, and ultimately ends up being nothing.