Movie Review – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, 2011.

Directed by Lasse Hallström.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman, Tom Mison, Rachael Stirling and Kristin Scott Thomas.


SYNOPSIS:

A fisheries expert is employed by a wealthy Sheikh to help bring salmon fishing to Yemen. On the way he has a journey encompassing the all-important things in life: fly-fishing and faith.


The title ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ is a seemingly strange, yet obvious choice for this movie. The film is about salmon fishing in Yemen, so it’s telling you what you’re getting. But at the same time it could be ‘Tiddlywinks in Egypt’ and would matter just as much. The film is about faith in whatever you do in life and revealing the truth within yourself.

I wanted to go into the film knowing nothing about it. I wanted to try and take the film as just the film, without any marketing to influence what I thought the film was going to be about. I obviously had to know the title though, otherwise I would have been a lunatic in a multiplex with an overpriced bag of sweets, yelling to the heavens that I just wanted to see a film.

The problem I had with the title was that it made the film sound like an offbeat, indie drama that is offbeat just for the sake of being offbeat. So my expectations weren’t high, due to my prejudices towards things that didn’t somehow involve Batman (Liam Neeson trained Batman and Obi-Wan, so I guess there’s that).

So, going into a film with no idea what the hell was going on, I was happy to find the plot unpredictable. Yes, I knew there was going to be a romantic plot alongside the fishing one involving Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) and Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). But what was good about it was that I had no idea how they could get together at any point and still be likeable. Dr. Fred is in a pedestrian marriage with a cold wife (but the love is still there), while Harriet has a boyfriend who’s just been posted on a tour of duty to Afghanistan. How could Dr. Fred steal away Harriet’s heart without being an utter not-very-nice-man?

So throughout the whole film, I sat there wondering if they could get together and still be likeable. Or could they be a tragic romance, never having the chance to be together save for the brief moments? Or could the four have the most boring episode of Wife Swap ever? I just didn’t know.

The performances did much to help this plot’s cause along. You feel Harriet’s inner struggle as she clings on to the idea of her and her army boyfriend, while Ewan McGregor forces himself to think over and over about whether this is a midlife crisis or if it’s the defining moment of his life. McGregor’s performance in particular is full. The quietness Dr. Fred has makes the humorous moments all the funnier and the depressing moments that much sadder.

All the while Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) is standing around holding billions of dollars and a fishing rod. Waked makes his character stand out even amongst the… cod… philosophy (sorry, neither the thyme nor the plaice) that his character spouts out. What could’ve been a conventional role in which a wise man from a far off land spouts nonsense disguised with breezy delivery and metaphors, is actually a solid character who helps characters as they help him.

While the plot wasn’t predictable, the film suffered in tiny moments where I couldn’t help but think ‘Okay, now this’ll happen’ and a few seconds later it did. These little beats were the only time I was taken out of the film, but they still present a problem.

Most of the time though, everything was well handled. Even the bit with terrorists. That’s right. This film has it all. Fishing. Waders. AND terrorists. The Sheikh finds he has opposition to his plans to convert some of the desert into a lake for the salmon. Within the context of this story the sudden appearance of terrorists at seemingly random intervals might be laughable, whilst watching I never thought it was out of place.

In the end, the film that could have been laughable or pretentious or… well, anything really considering it’s a film about salmon fishing that I did not research before yesterday is a film that draws you in quietly without you realising. It could’ve been a fluffy rom-com or a philosophical drama, but it’s actually a cross between the two that’s more substantial than both.

It’s feel good without being too sugary. It’s about big themes of environmental change and love without being operatic. The moments that drag you in are the ones that feel most real and it’s the grounding of this film that do it justice.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie ****

Matt Smith

  • Megl51

    I also saw the film and much of what you say rings true to me. How the couple will get together without being "bad guys" is indeed well handled. Thanks for a very thoughtful review of a grownup movie.