I’ve long been a bit mystified by the ubiquitous and intense hatred among the cinephile set for Lasse Hallstrom, who has seemed to me to be at worst a skilled middlebrow crowd-pleaser, and at best an undemanding but bright filmmaker who could bring a touch of polished lyricism to mundane Hollywood prestige scripts. Now I sort of get it. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an interminable affectation, a miserable non-story turned into a non-movie that floats for almost two hours on an oil slick of phony quirk. Featuring a world-class cast rendered helpless before the lumbering banality of the script by Simon Beaufoy (who wrote Slumdog Millionaire, though you’d never know it), the film doesn’t find room for a single believable human moment amid the half-hearted jokes and the treacly kumbaya of its if-we-all-work-together-white-people-can-save-the-Middle-East condescension.
Ewan McGregor plays a British fisheries expert who teams up with an investment flunky (Emily Blunt) to execute the vanity pipe dream of a rich sheik: to bring salmon fishing to the arid Yemen river. The project catches the attention of the Prime Minister’s venal press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), who decides to publicize the effort in an attempt to offset the constant barrage of bad news from the region. It’s not clear why we should care about any of this, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen itself seems unsure — it feints toward an anodyne message about people coming together to achieve the impossible, but is too mired in its Sunday-morning-at-the-old-folks’-home attempts at gaiety (Blunt’s character is named Chetwood-Tobert, which sounds kind of funny, so why not repeat it at every opportunity?) to put much behind it. This is the worst kind of trifle.
— Eugene Novikov