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Movie Pick

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (PG-13) When a nerdy government bureaucrat, Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), with a knowledge and passion for fishing is brought in to work with an engaging consultant, Harriet Chetwood-Talbot (Emily Blunt), representing the interests of a wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) from Yemen who wants to transform a desert into a verdant and financially abundant region for the locals, Fred doesn’t take any of it seriously. The sheikh’s project, to build a dam and bring wild salmon to the area, seems like nothing more than a costly, unrealistic fantasy. But the sheikh’s passion for fish and Harriet’s commitment draw Fred in, and he soon risks his private and professional life to see the project through. The British government is also interested in the sheikh’s dream, and the Prime Minister’s gung-ho press secretary, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), promises full backing of the project. Political reality soon threatens the dream, as do tribal antagonism in Yemen and Harriet’s own personal life, involving her relationship with a British soldier (Tom Mison).

You don’t come to a movie like this to be surprised or to have your beliefs tested or your intellect challenged. Movies like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are made for emotional reassurance. And despite the by-the-numbers approach to the material by director Lasse Hallström (Dear John, The Hoax) and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), there’s an easy charm that nevertheless manages to keep things satisfying. McGregor and Blunt are appealing leads and move through the predictable plot with nary a flicker of embarrassment or betrayal of ironic detachment. They sell Beaufoy’s dialogue convincingly and give it a fresh snap. But it’s Scott Thomas who gets the juiciest lines, and she’s missed when not strutting through the proceedings. Her character’s cynical political pragmatism fuels the moments of social satire in the movie, but Hallström veers from indulging that sort of acidic humor any longer than he has to already. The movie’s neediness to wrap the plot up snugly is screechingly lead-footed. It all feels insulated from reality, even though politics and complicated world events do make it into the mix, as if the movie wants to be In the Loop at times but can’t fully commit. Ultimately, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen leaves the biting humor alone and embraces good feelings and schmaltz instead. That’s not entirely a bad thing here, however, when it’s peopled with such amiable talent.


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