A Man Called Otto Review
PLOT: A grumpy widower named Otto (Tom Hanks) becomes enmeshed in the lives of his needy neighbors, to his (initial) dismay.
REVIEW: In early A man named Otto, there's a scene where Tom Hanks, as a cantankerous Otto, visits a hardware store to buy a rope. He plans to go home and hang himself, but once he gets to the register he has a long argument about how they will charge him for more rope than he needs. This scene is presented as "insane" and pretty much sums up all the issues I have with the film. In it, the character of Tom Hanks is so depressed that he's supposed to think he's going to kill himself as soon as he comes home with that rope. The way Marc Forster directs this scene and Hanks plays it, this sequence feels straight out of a sitcom, and you don't think for a second that Otto is so depressed that suicide is a legitimate option for him.
Given that A man named Otto is a remake of a much admired Swedish film, A man named Ove, which is based on a novel, it's reasonable to assume the story has been done better elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with the source material, even if the story has probably lost something due to the change of setting from Sweden to North America. Here Hanks plays grumpy Otto, who has gone mad since his beloved wife died of cancer. He was forced to retire from his job and with empty days at home without his wife ahead of him, he decides to end things. But whenever he's ready to do the deed, he's interrupted by his perky new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño). The pregnant woman, who cannot drive and often needs help with her children, usually has little things that she needs Otto's help with, to his initial dismay. Also, there is a cute cat that won't leave him alone and will quickly warn the old man's heart.
For his part, Hanks seems to enjoy playing grumpy Otto, but considering how popular he is, the role feels like a put-up. Hanks has that twinkle in his eye that makes Otto a lovable old fellow, when a less popular actor might have been better able to convey some pathos (I always thought Bryan Cranston would have been excellent). It's tough because A man named Otto is the kind of film that divides an audience. It lives and dies on Hanks' performance, and if you're moved by it, you'll love the film. If, like me, you find the performance unconvincing, then the film becomes a bit of a sentimental ordeal.
The film also contains many flashbacks depicting Otto's life with his wife. In his younger years, he is played by Hanks' son Truman, with his wife Sonya played by Rachel Keller. While this is meant to indicate how profound Otto's loss was, Sonya never emerges as a full character, instead coming across as incredibly sacred. She and Otto seem an odd couple, and their romance feels razor-thin, right down to the big set piece set to music by Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" (though film fans will remember that the song was in the Underrated was used similarly she is having a baby). Although they are shown to have faced some adversity in their later years, all of this remains off-screen, with Otto only remembering the early days, to the point that when Sonya appears to him late in the film, we only ever do you see as a young woman.
Finally, A man named Otto is the kind of movie that some people will love and others will hate. It pissed me off from the start, making it a difficult film to surrender to. It's forcedly sentimental and lacks the cynical bite that many have attributed to the original, with all rough edges sanded down on the way to a well-priced, award-winning studio fare. How you react to it A man named Otto depends entirely on whether you can match Hanks' performance and for the second time this year (after his over-the-top Colonel Parker marred an otherwise excellent performance elvis), I wasn't convinced by the mighty Tom.
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