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A Man Called Otto ★★



Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo  

Release: January 6, 2023 

Tom Hanks is unarguably a man that can turn his hand to anything. If he was hired to appear in a commercial for diapers, you can bet he’ll turn a mere few seconds into award-winning gold. This is a fact that has always been true in practice — but after the debut of A Man Called Otto, it’s a sentiment perhaps best relegated to paper. A melancholic character study enveloped in the importance of community, Hank’s latest filmic outing fails to tap into the emotional range it needs to, leaving a stagnant street view in its wake.

Otto (Tom Hanks) is a man that lives a solitary and unremarkable life, annoyed with the simple things while yearning for brighter days with his departed wife. When Mairsol (Mariana Treviño) moves in with her young family next door, Otto quickly fears he has a new battle to contend with. Growing closer and dependable in times of need, Otto learns the importance of the neighbours he has always had around him.

The problem is simple at its core — if Otto were a spice, he’d be flour. It’s something that everyone around him is aware of, including the stray cat that follows him around like a daemon shadow. The audience are well aware of this, too, considering the film’s 126-minute runtime never fully transitions out of Otto’s morose well-being. His character journey arc feels existential, with him watching in an out-of-body experience while half-heartedly trying to repair his reputation with the neighbours. It’s a story we’ve seen before (quite literally, when you consider the original A Man Called Ove), so another remake needs something punchy and fresh to stand on its own two feet. It’s a front that the film never delivers on, consistently stuck in a mindset that’s triumphant in swimming in its own cesspit. Otto’s bonds with the young family next door feel incredibly surface level, maintaining an air of keeping up appearances in order to make life, ironically, a little more bearable.

These traits would be all well and good if anything else about A Man Called Otto was particularly remarkable. Hanks is great, but it’s not a performance that will notably chart on his IMDB page. The techniques behind the filmmaking itself are pleasing to look at but don’t hold a single moment of wonder that will extend beyond leaving the cinema screen or switching off the TV. Thematically, Forster’s approach is decidedly more sombre than the A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood feel of its marketing, and that’s not exactly a good thing. What could turn from family quality time viewing into a relatively superficial introspection into the self is an unexpected sour note that’s simultaneously as unpalatable as it is mundane. Objectively, A Man Called Otto is a film shaped like a deep breath. It’s holding so much in that it forgets to regulate itself into something that actually reflects our emotional ability to connect. When we look back at the best films of 2023, this won’t be there. And if we look back at the best films of January 2023, this won’t be there either. Cue the “Oh yeah, I remember that” discourse we’ll circle back round to when Elvis cleans up during awards season.

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