You never know who your neighbors really are until you get to know them with Tom Hanks as the cantankerous A Man Called Otto. An Americanized version of the hit Swedish novel and film, Hanks leads a genuinely heartfelt cast of characters for this earnest comedy drama. On Blu-ray from Sony, the disc sports an excellent A/V presentation but is relatively thin on extras. Recommended
Some movies just aren’t for everyone. In the case of A Man Called Otto, cynics probably should keep this disc out of their players, even if it'd do them some good. The story of a grouchy elderly man played by Tom Hanks learning to find new meaning for life and living by getting to know his neighbors is certainly saccharin, but it’s also endearing. In a time where people live most of their lives online and huddled in their own echo chambers, it’s nice to see a film that’s content to entertain while encouraging folks to talk and get to know each other in person.
Tom Hanks is Otto, a cantankerous retiree, and widower who has some pretty firm ideas about how things should be. If he needs five feet of rope, he’s not going to pay for six. If the sign in the housing community says no driving, you don’t drive in that lane. If he gives a clown a quarter, by God almighty he’s going to get back that specific quarter. Where some see an impenetrable shell of bad mood energy, his new neighbors Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), his wife Marisol (Mariana Treviño), and their kids see someone else. As Otto attempts to find a way to punch his own ticket, the simple needs of his neighbors may be just what he needs to find a reason to stick around a little bit longer.
To be clear upfront, I’m not much of a fan of Mark Forster, or at least his output for the last fifteen or so years. Monsters Ball was excellent, Finding Neverland was nice, and I enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction, but everything from The Kite Runner onward has been pretty rough. By World War Z I was pretty sure I didn’t need to see anything from him again. So when I saw his name in the opening credits for A Man Called Otto, I was a bit worried this one wouldn't come together, but thankfully this film turned out. It may be a little flashy, blunt with its emotions, and it often telegraphs Hanks’ impending “Grumpy Funnies” scenes, but Foster managed to craft a film with a lot of heart and great performances.
It’s the kind of movie those mulish cynics in your life should see, it just might crack that cold shell encasing that organ that rests left of center in their chests, A Man Called Otto proves to be the right kind of nice good-natured comedy-drama that’s all-too-often forgotten about at the box office. It’s simple but not stupid. It’s easy on the emotions, but it doesn’t frivolously play with the heartstrings too much. Hanks is delightful as Otto, even if it’s almost impossible to believe the man has ever had a grumpy day in his life. This performance almost makes you forget his odd turn as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis.
My only real grumble and gripe with this film is that it’s not quite as good as the Swedish version. As I said earlier, the film likes to telegraph the comedy elements, and that can undercut the important “why” Hanks’ Otto is the way he is. In contrast, I felt Hannes Holm’s A Man Called Ove starring Rolf Lassgård had a better balance of humor and serious dramatic beats without being so blunt-edged with its emotional range. The various songs played throughout this version practically demand the audience shed a tear or two. And if one song didn't do it, there are two more coming. But if subtitles aren’t your thing and you need the story to be a little more “Americanized” - A Man Called Otto is a fine version. Not the best version of the story, you’d have to read the book for that, but this is still very good and better than expected.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Man Called Otto comes home to Blu-ray from Sony in a single-disc Blu-ray + Digital set. Housed in a standard case with slipcover, the film is pressed on a BD-50 disc. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options and the bonus features panel along the right side of the screen. The digital copy is Movies Anywhere and will port to all connected digital retailers.
Apparently shot on 35mm and finished with a 4K digital intermediate, the film comes to Blu-ray with a nice 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The film mostly takes place in fall/winter so the colors for the modern-day sequences are that grey-ish blue drab. The flashback scenes are a little more robust colors with full ranges of primaries to appreciate. Skin tones are healthy throughout without issues. Details are sharp overall, there are a few bits and pieces where I just didn’t feel like they sprang to life, Otto teaching Marisol to drive was oddly flat looking in that regard, but the rest of the image is immaculate. Black levels are strong with ample shadow gradience to give the image a sense of depth and dimension. This is available in 4K with HDR for streaming platforms so I’d be curious to see what that could look like. As a whole, this is a fine Blu-ray.
This release carries over a nice DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Even with a full-range surround presence with the dialog, sound effects, and the Thomas Newman score, the mix isn’t very aggressive. Much of the soundscape keeps to the front/center channels letting the surrounds offer accents to set the scene or punch in some more of the heartstring music cues. But that’s good for this film since it’s not action-packed. A few sequences around train tracks punched up some extra rumble in the subs but for the most part the mix sticks to the midranges. Dialog is clean and clear, even with Hanks’ grumbles.
Bonus features for this release are a bit of a miss. The behind-the-scenes featurette is pretty basic talking head EPK material. You get a deleted scene, a music video, and some trailers for other Sony releases.
If you just need a nice movie that leaves you feeling good when the credits roll, A Man Called Otto should fit the bill. Tom Hanks turns in a lovely performance as Otto. It may be difficult to believe he’s ever grumpy, but he sells that lovable charm the only way an actor of his caliber can. It might not be quite as good as A Man Called Ove, it’s a little more blunt with its emotions, but it’s still pretty great, and was much better than I’d expected. Now on Blu-ray, the film makes for a welcome addition to the collection with a solid 1080p transfer, great audio, but a slim selection of bonus features. For a good uncomplicated film to perk up your day, give this one a shot. Recommended.