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A Man Called Otto Review: Tom Hanks’ Familiar Remake of Hit Swedish Film Has Lost Something in Translation

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Over the last few decades, American remakes of successful international films have a decidedly mixed track record. On the one hand, we have brilliant, refreshing second looks like The Ring (based on the Japanese film Ringu) or The Departed (based on the Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs), while on the other, there are spectacular duds ranging from Secret in Their Eyes (based on Argentina’s stunning The Secret in Their Eyes) to Miss Bala (based on a gritty Mexican film of the same name) and The Upside (based on the so-so French movie The Intouchables).

Tom Hanks‘ latest movie, A Man Called Otto, is a remake of Sweden’s Oscar-nominated A Man Called Ove, and unfortunately, it falls on the latter half of that scale. A film about a grouchy neighbor’s arc of redemption, it feels particularly unoriginal in light of the roles that Hanks has played, and ultimately lacks the tender eccentricity that made the 2015 Swedish film so beloved.

Hanks plays the titular Otto, a grumpy 60-year-old man who’s practically the original “Get Off My Lawn” guy, having grown incredulous with the laziness and solipsism of younger generations. Through flashbacks in which Hanks’ actual son, Truman Hanks, plays the younger version of Otto, we see his coy, sweet courtship of his wife, how he tried to serve his country in the military but was denied due to a congenital disorder, and that he was devoted to and then became estranged from his daughter (Rachel Keller).

A Man Called Otto
Mariana Treviño and Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto/Sony Pictures

Having been forced to retire from his job of nearly 40 years and, with his wife recently deceased, Otto has decided to kill himself, but try as he might, he’s constantly interrupted — in admittedly amusing ways — by his nosy and needy neighbors, including a Mexican couple played by Mariana Treviño and Manuel Garcia Rulfo, and a nice man (Mindhunter star Cameron Britton) who’s well-seasoned in Otto’s cantankerous ways, among others. The upshot of the film — which hails from journeyman director Marc Foster, whose credits range from The Kite Runner to World War Z, and screenwriter David Magee (Mary Poppins Returns, Life of Pi) — is that Otto rediscovers a will to live through the inexplicably persistent kindness of his neighbors. As their problems unwittingly become Otto’s own, he comes to realize that despite it all — those damn neighborhood kids, the capitalist profit mongers bleeding everyone dry, and the general lack of decency and morals left in society — his life is still meaningful and worth living.

The premise is entertaining and the actors pull it off as far as they are able to. Treviño is particularly effective in the film’s most critical comedic role as the ditsy, pregnant neighbor who constantly needs help and is always causing unwitting trouble. And Hanks, unsurprisingly, plays the irritable and sullen title character with believable alacrity, and without histrionics.

The problem, though, is that we’ve seen beloved actors play these kinds of roles before, such as Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, and Hanks’ own vehicles have fallen into a kind of pattern, from Elvis and News of the World to Greyhound, and even Sully. It wasn’t all that long ago that Hanks was still playing a middle-aged action hero on the big screen (think 2016’s Inferno), but he has quickly and repeatedly embraced the cranky old man trope in ways that make Otto feel a remake twice over.

Worse for A Man Called Otto is that it’s no longer 2015. When the Swedish film came out, Ove seemed endearing as much as he was crabby. His irreverence was sort of identifiable, his petulant but rather soft anger understandable, and ultimately, he was quite easy to root for. His neighbors were annoying in a general “they are just young” sort of sense, and the story of redemption did not require moral choices between the, at times, hateful Ove, and his sometimes-annoying neighbors. Sony’s version of the movie, by contrast, comes out at a time when “grumpy old white guy” has taken on a vastly different meaning than it had in 2015, and as a result, Otto’s reactions to his Mexican immigrant neighbors and their family foibles feel slightly more off-key, making his redemption arc narrative slightly harder to swallow.

A Man Called Otto
Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto/Sony Pictures

This is all to say that had A Man Called Otto come out in 2015 — well before Hanks had played other versions of that character and certain political events had overcome the film’s sweet core — it may well have been as enjoyable as the Swedish film that did come out that year. Today, however, the English-language remake feels unnecessary and ultimately unpersuasive due to that fundamental lack of originality.

A Man Called Otto does earn some redemption below the line, as makeup department heads Douglas Noe and Tony Ward deserve credit for subtly aging Hanks and making his face, which we all know so well, look far paler, gaunt, and ethereal than usual. As it was in the original movie (which received an Oscar nod for its makeup efforts), a critical component of making the character of Otto interesting is to make him interesting to look at by aging him and shaping his face so that it’s plausible that the actor playing young Otto in flashbacks could plausibly grow into his elder co-star. It helps, then, that Truman Hanks looks like his famous father.

A Man Called Otto is a true family affair, as Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, produced the film alongside her husband and also composed a song for the soundtrack — her first for a feature film — called “Til You’re Home.” The tune, set mostly against piano and strings, is a soft, touching melody that fits well within the emotive film that it accompanies.

This movie is fundamentally about the ties that bind us, be it as family or neighbors. But this universally identifiable theme of community — helping others and relying on them to help, too — is insufficient to carry it across the finish line. Though A Man Called Otto will certainly have its fans, the fact that it’s aimed at an older demo limits its commercial potential, and some of its old-school attitudes regarding certain hot-button topics make it even less appealing, making it difficult to recommend to general audiences.

Grade: C

A Man Called Otto will be released in select theaters on Dec. 30, 2022, before opening nationwide on Jan. 13, 2023, courtesy of Sony Pictures. 

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