Director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have created an oddity in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, an unbalanced yet quite endearing story, which relies a little too heavily on the charisma and talent of stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Beginning in a very peculiarly endearing manner, the first two acts majorly work despite its unusual premise, as the opening starts off brisk, fun and intriguing but unfortunately completely falls apart, as the final act ruins everything which preceded it.
Adapted from a novel by Paul Torday, the film stars Ewan McGregor as Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist who is commissioned by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) – acting on behalf of an obscenely rich Sheikh (Amr Waked) – to introduce salmon into the Yemen river. Of course, this is a ludicrous proposal which would have never be attempted, but…After a series of bad publicity over Britain’s war in Afghanistan, the government — represented by Kristin Scott Thomas’ character, Bridget Maxwell– wants a positive story for Britain’s efforts in the Middle East. Their best idea? To make sure the Salmon Fishing in the Yemen project works.
So Alfred and Harriet take on this major project and, along with the Sheikh, attempt to do the impossible by introducing 10,000 salmon into the very foreign world of the Yemen river. This obviously involves a lot of work and commitment, as Dr. Jones deals with an unhappy marriage, and Harriet must leave behind a new relationship with Capt. Robert Mayers (Tom Mison), a soldier himself. These relationship difficulties are much less interesting throughout than the opening feel of the film, which earning a lot of comparison to the terrific British political satire, In the Loop, as the first act or so is absolutely delightful in its portrayal of the ridiculousness of the situation.
While the romantic aspects of the film are fairly straight-forward, the style and wittiness of the opening feels quite the opposite. Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t last long, as Beaufoy and Hallström seemingly sabotage the film through a series of unnecessary plot excursions and developments that go nowhere and completely fail to bring anything new the film’s genre landscape. Even the impressive cast seems lost within the mess that is the final act, as the completely uninspired and lazy ending ruins all that preceded it.
While not overly long, running at a rather brisk 111 minutes, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen seems like it is just not running on enough plot or substance to earn its running time. If the filmmakers were able to wrap it up after around 85 minutes and avoid much of the malarky which arises in the final act, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen could have been a peculiar, brisk romantic comedy featuring strong performances. Instead the film sabotages itself by attempting to change directions half-way through by adding in pointless and often painfully bad subplots and narrative devices which never work as planned. Director Lasse Hallström adds his typical unusual style and tastes to the film, which works early on but eventually wears out its welcome, as any potential the film shows soon goes by the wayside for the typical and often pointless subplots and conclusion we come to expect from a romantic comedy.
Rated: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language.)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is currently playing in limited release.