In A Man Called Otto, Otto Anderson is an elderly man who lives in a delightful housing community, surrounded by friendly neighbours. However, Otto is far from friendly himself, and in recent times, he has become grouchy and irascible.
Otto’s change in mood and attitude is largely connected to the death of his wife, Sonya, who passed away a short time ago. Since Sonya died, Otto has cut himself off from the community, and has become increasingly disgruntled with the world.
One day, after reaching the end of his tolerance for everything, Otto buys a length of rope, calls his utility providers to have his services disconnected, and tries to commit suicide. However, his attempt to kill himself is interrupted by the sudden (and slightly chaotic) arrival of new neighbours, and this puts his plans on hold.
Over the next few days, Otto makes further attempts to end his life, but every time he tries to kill himself outside forces get in the way. He also finds himself being drawn back into the lives of those within his local community, including new neighbour Marisol, who continually reaches out to him despite his acerbic nature.
Directed by Marc Forster, A Man Called Otto stars Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, and Truman Hanks. The movie is based on the book A Man Called Ove by Hannes Holm, which has previously been adapted into a 2015 Swedish movie of the same name.
A Man Called Otto is a drama-comedy, which looks at the impact that grief can have on a person. It throws a spotlight on how difficult it can be to move on from the death of a loved one, and how tragedy can transform the trajectory of a person’s life.
The film tackles some emotional and hard-hitting subjects, with suicide and death being a continuous theme throughout the story. As such, it is often quite a sombre affair, likely to draw a tear or two.
However, despite the moving material in the film, A Man Called Otto is humorous in places, occasionally touching, and from time-to-time it is thought-provoking. As someone who can be a little grumpy (to say the least), I found myself captured by its premise and its central character, I was compelled throughout, and came away with much to think about.
Tom Hanks takes on the part of Otto, and as you might expect, he is perfect in the role. Hanks is a pro in the acting game, I don’t need to tell you this, and he manages to find the right balance of anger and sadness within Otto to provide a complex character who has somehow fallen through the cracks in society.
Whereas once upon a time Otto was an important player in his neighbourhood, and someone filled with love and compassion, now he is a man who gets worked up by the slightest inconvenience. He gets angry at road users, at shop workers, and pretty much anyone he meets on the street.
Some actors would play this role completely one note, making Otto either unlikeable or unreachable. But Hanks finds the right pitch, being able to demonstrate Otto’s dissatisfaction and heartache, while ensuring the audience can see the mental health crisis he is suffering while battling with his grief.
To back Hanks up, there is a small ensemble of actors who play Otto’s well-meaning neighbours and they are essentially his anchors to the world. Chief amongst these is Mariana Treviño who plays Marisol – a friendly young mother, who keeps pushing her way into Otto’s life, despite his best efforts to keep her at a distance.
As Marisol, Treviño is the perfect foil for Hanks and they work together very well. As with Hanks, Treviño plays the role just right, making it clear why she is able to get close to him when others have failed.
Outside of the lead actors, A Man Called Otto benefits from strong direction from Marc Forster, as well as a solid screenplay by David Magee. The pair previously teamed up on 2004’s Finding Neverland (2004) and they have worked their magic once again for this film.
A Man Called Otto also has another ace up its sleeve in production designer Barbara Ling. Ling – who once worked on the Joel Schumacher Batman movies of the 1990s – helps to create a believable housing community for Otto to reside in, and the look and feel of the neighbourhood becomes an important part of the story.
While A Man Called Otto may repeat some well-worn movie tropes at times, its central premise, its direction, and its cast keep things moving along nicely. The film also delivers an important message about togetherness, and acts as a timely reminder to check in on family, friends, and neighbours, who might be struggling during this post-Christmas/New Year slump better known as ‘deepest darkest January’.
Should you wish to watch A Man Called Otto for yourself, the movie arrives in UK cinemas on Friday January 6th. If you live in the US, the film is currently playing in limited theatres in New York and Los Angeles, but will be going country-wide on January 13th.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review on It’s A Stampede!. For more reviews, check out the recommended reads below.
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