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September 22, 2016

‘Fishing’ worth a bite

The film of 2012 you should see but probably haven’t is already upon us, and it’s a rather surprising one: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” It isn’t without a hidden tone of surprise that this review will be mostly positive. After all, who would want to watch a movie about salmon fishing? Turns out, when a film is put together properly, even if not completely front-to-back, it can be a joy to watch regardless of subject matter.

When fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is forcibly pulled into a project of bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen, a notorious dry area, he is matched with an overly determined consultant (Emily Blunt) and a visionary sheik (Amr Waked), whose faith clashes with Jones’ personal beliefs, specifically pertaining to the project at hand.

What shines brighter than anything is the script’s utter dedication to its characters, while also adding more than a dash of dry wit and silly humor. For a film dealing with fishing in the Middle East, the amount of laughs were almost alarming. Audiences would expect to see an uplifting story, but the presence of the humor, which is carefully placed and perfectly executed, was not an expectation at all.

The key to this odd film’s success is all in character creation, development and portrayal. The only way to somehow make the audience care about salmon and salmon fishing is to infuse passion into the characters. In this case, there needn’t just be passion, but also an extra flair that either pokes fun at the boring nature of fishing or fish enthusiasts or creates fun by having characters radiate a personality that stands out and leaves an impression.

Dr. Jones is a fisheries expert and has a stale marriage to his wife, which isn’t exactly the ideal background for a character whose job is to engage and entertain. However, he is brought to life by dry humor and natural quips. Brewing with sarcasm and seemingly aimless dedication, Jones is best described as being professional-unprofessional. Originally faithless and unmoved by a project he believes to be ludicrous and only possible in theory, the transformation of his character becomes one of the film’s strongest positives. Adding to the charm of the whole thing is Harriet (Blunt) and the Sheik. Though they play second fiddle to Jones, their guidance, knowledge, beliefs and light air about them further display a wholesome commitment to worthwhile characters. The acting, as a final note, can’t be shortchanged as the chemistry between McGregor and Blunt is outstanding, and they play off of one another both in moments of playful humor, tense humor and more tender moments as well as any leads this year.

If there’s a slight hiccup to be found in “Salmon Fishing,” it is the fact that it has a considerably weaker second half. However, the keyword here is “slight.” As the story gets deeper and deeper, the film tends to sway more in the direction of romantic comedy rather than stay the course it should, a non-traditional, somewhat off-beat comedy. Things start to slow down and follow a more predictable path towards what starts to seem like an undeniable end. Genuinely uplifting starts to poke its head into the category of uplifting for uplifting’s sake. Most importantly, because each character is sculpted so carefully, one can’t help but feel two people come out of the whole situation with a rather raw deal. Depending on the viewer, this slip up could be overlooked entirely or a pure backbreaker.

Honestly, the chemistry between McGregor and Blunt is so pure and the writing is so consistently sharp that it seems ridiculous not to give the flaws a pass. The filmmakers (in general) should receive the utmost praise for taking a dull subject and making it into something easy to care about. What’s important is the full body of work, not just individual parts.

“Salmon Fishing” isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than it had to be to please an audience. With an uplifting picture of the Middle East without fully stripping realism, clever writing, well-developed characters and wonderful performances, this film is hardly the fish out of water that it should be.

Nick Coviello can be reached at ncoviell@student.umass.edu.

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