this most recent of Lasse Hallström's films shares some narrative touchstones in common with THE CIDER HOUSE RULES: a somewhat innocent hero is tempted out of his sheltered life and ventures to a paradisical setting, where he falls in love with a woman whose soldier boyfriend is called to service, leaving her temporarily available. Otherwise, and quite apart from the protagonist's Scottish accent, there's a pleasant LOCAL HERO aspect to this story -- about fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) who, when a UK political publicist (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides a positive story about the Middle East is needed, is recruited to help a wealthy sheik (Amr Waked) bring the sport of fly-fishing to an artificial lake being constructed in the middle of the desert. The love interest is provided by Emily Blunt, cast as McGregor's supervisor, Harriet. Here the promise of paradise is threatened by a militant group of the sheik's fellow countrymen, who believe the fulfillment of his idle fishing fantasy will lay a red carpet of Western corruption through their homeland.
To look at these two films side-by-side is to witness an obvious shift in storytelling that was more likely imposed on Hallström than naturally evolved over time. While the actors are all extremely well-cast, competent and attractive, McGregor's Dr. Jones borders on caricature while the female principles celebrate the little triumphs of life by swaggering about like dizzy geese -- behavior clearly pitched at baiting audience approval rather than remaining honestly sublimated within the story. Kristin Scott Thomas is particularly grating in this regard, and a recurring joke of her email correspondence with the British prime minister falls repeatedly flat. The sidebar story of Alfred's failing marriage to Mary (Rachael Stirling, the daughter of Diana Rigg) is likewise broadened by making Mary and Harriet look like they came from different generations when the two actresses are only six years apart, thus giving the cheap and false impression that Alfred is falling for a younger, prettier face when the disconnections in his marriage are more deeply rooted. There are some lovely moments, but they are not the ones that linger.
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