Make a Call on "A Man Called Otto"
It feels as though Tom Hanks has been challenging his persona as a good guy/boyish actor since the eighties. Its hard to think of him otherwise but he's been challenging that notion since his first strong turn away from comedy in 1986 starring in "Nothing in Common" where he comes to terms with his father played by another comedian sharpening his dramatic talents, Jackie Gleason. But each dramatic role he takes feels like some other actor would've been a better fit from "Philadelphia," "Saving Private Ryan," "Apollo 13," etc. But with Marc Forster's "A Man Called Otto," there is finally a film role of the curmudgeon that fits Mr. Hanks like a glove.
Based on the 2015 Swedish film, "A Man Called Ove," Otto (Mr. Hanks) is a man struck with grief from the death of his wife several months before the movie opens. He's coped by attending to his daily rituals oppressively. Unfortunately, those rituals are to maintain order in a housing complex much to the annoyance of his neighbors. Each slight offense is met with rude incrimination. But we also learn that Otto was never a people person to begin with. His wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), was the one who humanized him. She left her mark not only on him but on everyone, the neighbors and as a teacher on her students. The residue of her good nature comes back to show itself and remind Otto of how to treat others. But Otto isn't content to live in a world without Soyna. He attempts several times to meet her on the other side but is foiled by fate and bad carpentry.
New neighbors, Marisol (Mariana Trevino) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), move in and attempt to build a relationship with their standoffish neighbor. But like everyone in the complex they are unsuccessful. Otto's hostility is meant to keep relationships at bay. He's focused on the mission of returning to his true love. As much as he wants to repel people he does have a soft heart and is there to assist, if need be and only to do things in the proper way, and not in the pleasantest of ways.
"A Man Called Otto" is about Otto learning that life is complex and that there is love to be had and to give even in the face of great tragedy. Mr. Forster is wonderful transitioning from Otto's early courtship of Soyna to the present-day pain he's trying to relieve. He does a fine job walking that line of making Otto cantankerous enough to repel his neighbors but not enough to keep an audience from rooting for him.
In a story about one man's coming to terms with loss there isn't much of an antagonist to be had. Unfortunately, the makers of the film felt there needed to be. They planted a side story of some developers (who else?) who irk Otto's daily routine by driving over the lawns and build them up to taking over the housing complex. Of course they have to get their comeuppance. It is a needless distraction that only adds to the hundred and twenty-six minutes. After, Mr. Forster gets us smoothly back on track to Otto's story.
The film was produced by Mr. Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson. You get the sense they watched the original Swedish film, loved it and thought it would be another great role for Mr. Hanks to erase a good guy image. And it does. This is a role that he makes his own and I bought it. Even the rage seems naturalistic and every affront is justified from the character's point of view. And that is the key to the whole movie. Once you bought into Mr. Hanks becoming Otto, you get caught up in the emotional stream. And its a ride worth taking along with a man called Otto.