Based on such a ho-hum title, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” The film boils (bad word choice?) down to an examination of faith through fish. Sounds odd, right? It is, but in a weird way, it works wonderfully. Swimmingly, some might say. Ok, no more fish puns, I promise.
Starring Ewan McGregor as Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist with Asperger syndrome, the film revolves around a Yemeni sheikh (played by Amr Waked) on a quest to introduce salmon to his country. It becomes quite clear early on that Dr. Jones finds it “theoretically” impossible and therefore is reluctant to join the adventure.
That all changes when he’s given the $50 million he asks for to start up.
Dr. Jones is introduced to the project by the sheikh’s assistant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (played by Emily Blunt). McGregor and Blunt have a surprisingly great on-screen chemistry. As a whole the acting in the film is superb.
But the scenes really come to life when Kristin Scott Davis’ character, press secretary Bridget Maxwell, is on the screen. Scott Davis brings to life a blunt, politically motivated government official with a crazy personality. She handles the role brilliantly and saves it from becoming an over-the-top caricature. I know it’s very early in the film year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she receives an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
The plot of the movie mainly revolves around the evolution of Dr. Jones’ belief/doubt in the salmon project and how it parallels his personal life and rapidly dissolving marriage and career.
As his character evolves, his faith in the project grows along with his respect for the sheikh and his interest in Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. And honestly, the audience’s investment in the project grows as the film runs as well.
All in all, this is a top-notch dramedy with brilliant acting. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, The Full Monty) is not too sweet, feels authentic and makes you realize that sometimes it’s not about a project, it’s about succeeding against the odds.
The best part is that if people can get past the title, this is a movie with a little something for everyone.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour and 47 minutes. The film is currently playing in select cities and will open nationwide soon.
All photos courtesy of CBS Films.