Just prior to attending this screening, the usual thought prevailed within my mind. Is this just another inferior American remake of a superior film made by another nation. However, in order to answer that question, I would have to watch the previous version. To give a better context, A Man Called Otto is an American production based on the Swedish novel, A Man Called Ove, by author Fredrik Backman. In 2015, writer/director Hannes Holm adapted the novel for cinema. The night before my Otto screening, I watched, for the very first time, Holm’s adaptation which shares the same title of the book that inspires it.
While not completely blown away, I found myself captivated, invested, and amused by the story of a grouchy, and seemingly uncaring, Swedish curmudgeon who is intent on ending his life and joining his beloved late wife in the afterlife. After watching director Marc Forster’s adaptation of the story, my initial impressions were certainly confirmed. A Man Called Otto is a slightly watered-down version, compared to the Swedish movie. However, I still found myself intrigued and moderately invested in the story and its protagonist.
A Man Called Otto follows the retirement of Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a sad and grouchy widower, who mostly tries to keep to himself, despite his penchant for calling out the flaws and misteps of his neighbors. Otto is a man who firmly believes in the established rules and order of his community. In fact, most or all of these rules where established by him and his one-time neighbor and friend Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones). Almost immediately following his retirement from his long time career, Otto has decided that the time has come for him to join his wife in death. Otto proceeds to make multiple attempts to end his life, but his new neighbors Marisol (Mariana Trevino), Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters always manage to disrupt his plans.
With a screenplay adapted by David Magee, director Marc Forster delivers a solid version of the story, but one that definitely falls short of the previous movie by Hannes Holm. Holm takes the time to better flesh out the Ove/Otto character, offering more background information, that the new movie tends to skip. In addition, actor Rolf Lassgård portrays a much more convincing grumpy old man than Hanks does in the update.
Don’t get me completely wrong. Hanks does an adequate job as Otto, but one can easily tell that he already has a softer side. Rolf Lassgård is simply much more intimidating and shows a more volatile side of the character than Hanks does. I feel that Forster should have allowed his lead actor to channel more anger and temper, but it seems like there might have been some pressure by the producers to make the character more amiable.
While my initial suspicions were confirmed, I still found myself liking the movie. It is just fine for any American audiences who find it uncomfortable or too difficult to read subtitles while watching films from other countries. For those who really enjoy International cinema, I must highly recommend A Man Called Ove, because it is the superior version.