LITTLE ROCK As the title implies, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is about a seemingly impossible activity. As you might have learned in biology class, salmon tend to breed and be born in cold streams in the Northern Hemisphere. Introducing them to Yemen’s warm waters would simply lead to their quick demise and a very short fishing season. Or at least that’s what British government biologist Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) says.
Jones is considered Great Britain’s foremost expert on the fish, but a Yemeni, Sheik Muhammed (played with remarkable dignity by Egyptian actor Amr Waked, Syriana), and his fiercely determined assistant Harriet (Emily Blunt) respectfully disagree Yemen’s suitability for salmon. The sheik is a billionaire several times over and isn’t used to hearing no from anyone, even if it’s from a capable scientist like Jones. Harriet discovers some mountain streams in the sheik’s fiefdom where the fish could conceivably spawn. She also aligns the sheik with a British government press flack named Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s eager to help fix Britain’s damaged reputation in the Middle East.
Maxwell and Jones’ obtuse boss, eager to score a diplomatic coup, coerce Jones into working with the sheik. After meeting with his new taskmaster, Jones gradually changes his mind about the quixotic project.
For one thing, the sheik, while unorthodox, is hardly a rich madman who wants to catch salmon in his own backyard. Feeling a sense of noblesse oblige, he wants to reroute the rivers in his territory so the locals can grow crops. If he can also catch the same coveted game fish that he nets near his British mansion, so be it. The more time Jones spends with the sheik, the less the Yemeni’s comments on faith sound like bromides and the less his lofty goals seem like pipe dreams.
If surmounting the logistical hurdles of transporting live salmon to a desert waterway thousands of miles away weren’t formidable enough, Jones and Harriet are also battling personal issues. Jones and his wife (Catherine Steadman) are drifting apart, and Harriet’s beau (Tom Mison) has just been deployed to Afghanistan. Naturally, sparks fly during the partnership.
Before Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starts to feel too pat, Scott Thomas arrives with a ferocious burst of energy and cynicism that keeps the film humming.
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom manages to repeat the low-key charm of his better efforts, like My Life as a Dog and Chocolat. Simon Beaufoy, who specializes in screenplays about unusual challenges (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), wrote the script from Paul Torday’s novel.
Like a good fishing trip, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does require a good deal of patience and faith, but it will hook you in the end.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 83 Cast: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman, Tom Beard, Tom Mison Director: Lasse Hallstrom Rated: PG-13, for some violence and sexual content, and brief language Running time: 111 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 34 on 03/30/2012
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