Movie Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

The director of  Chocolat, Lasse Hollstrom, and the writer of Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy have teamed up in Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (2012), a moving tale of hope and faith.  The film stars Ewan McGregor as Dr. Fred Jones, a fisheries expert with the British government. He is recruited by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (played by Emily Blunt) to develop a salmon fishing program in Yemen. She is doing so on behalf of a wealthy Yemeni sheikh (played by Amr Waked). Kristin Scott Thomas rounds out the cast as Patricia Maxwell, the press officer for the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

McGregor's Dr. Jones is very serious about most things, especially fishing. He is married to an ambitious woman, but there are no sparks in the relationship. They are going through the motions of life: perfunctory sex, small-talk in passing, no real communication. He is reluctant to participate in the Yemen project, seeing it as "fundamentally unfeasible", but admits that it isn't "theoretically impossible".

Blunt's Ms. Chetwode-Talbot is young and energetic. She begins a relationship with a British military officer (played by Tom Mison) when he is suddenly shipped out to Afghanistan. After hearing that he is MIA and possibly dead, she pours herself into the fishing project. 

Thomas' Maxwell is manipulative and, after a mosque is blown up, sees the fishing project as a "feel good" story and jumps on the chance to make the British government look better in the media.

The sheikh and Jones have a common interest in fishing, and the sheikh helps Jones to see that fishing is a metaphor for hope, with hundreds of hours spent fishing in the hope of one big catch. The sheikh is a visionary with deep faith in his religion who refuses to admit the impossibility of bringing cold-water fish to the dry, hot desert of Yemen. His enthusiasm rubs off on Jones and, in the end, he discovers that even though he is a scientist, he can still believe in the possiblities in the world.

The relationship at the center of the movie is between Dr. Jones and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. At first, they find it difficult to connect, still addressing each other by their surnames. But when tragedy strikes, they find that there is more to the relationship. A warm friendship develops at first as he is married and she is grieving. There doesn't seem to be any hope of more of a future for the two, but then again, this is a movie about hope, isn't it?

The film utilizes beautiful imagery of the fish to symbolize Jones' life. At first, we see that he is like a salmon, going along with the rest of the crowd running upstream. But from above, we see him turn in a crowd and go against it. It is this point that his character begins to grow and change. He realizes that he must make some tough decisions regarding his job and his marriage.

The fishing scenes are magnificent as are the scenes of the desert in Yemen. The Yemeni people are beautiful and generous. Jones and Chetwode-Talbot change with every interaction. But it wouldn't be a good story without an antagonist, and this film has a few. Maxwell uses the fishing project and Chetwode-Talbot's relationship with a military officer to get a few good photo ops. Personally, I found her presence in the film to be irritating. The silliness of her character did not go with the depth of the rest of the story. 

The sheikh turns out to have a few enemies in his homeland who don't share the vision of salmon fishing. Their efforts to sabotage the program lend some tension to the story and have the characters asking themselves when it is appropriate to give up hope.

Even though this film was not a blockbuster at the theater, I strongly recommend it. It offers up some laughs and a few tears and manages not to be too precious about it. You can get it on iTunes.

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