A Man Called Otto Review: Tom Hanks' Best Performance in Years

Despite being in his fifth decade as an actor, Tom Hanks is as busy as ever. The critically acclaimed leading man put in three performances in 2022 alone, which included starring opposite Austin Butler in Elvis and becoming the latest actor to bring Geppetto to life in Pinocchio. His latest starring role comes in A Man Called Otto, an American adaptation of the 2012 Fredrik Backman novel, which began its limited-release run at last year's midnight hour. While breaking up its rollout has led to A Man Called Otto flying under the radar for some, Hanks puts in his best performance in years in this heartwarming tale.

A Man Called Otto chronicles the quiet life of Otto Anderson (Hanks), a grumpy old man who is set off by even the most minuscule of inconveniences. While most keep their distance, a new neighbor and her family embrace Otto despite his attitude, leading the widowed lone wolf to an unexpected pack.

This film's compliments start with its titular star for good reason. Like all great leading actors, Hanks immerses himself in the role of Otto to the point of being unrecognizable. Exposition off the jump hammers home who Otto is, and his demeanor is a far cry from the lovable father figure Hanks is known to portray. Both A Man Called Otto and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood evoke similar emotions, despite the fact that Hanks' roles in those films couldn't be more opposing.

There's an appreciated balance of alone time and crossover scenes with Otto, which allows audiences to not necessarily forgive his grumpiness, but gives perspective on where he's coming from. Hanks especially excels at moments void of dialogue, as his physical acting -- from his posture to his facial expressions -- emphasizes how lived-in Otto Anderson is. 

While those quiet moments are memorable, the real highlight is when Hanks gets to converse with his neighbors. He's far from welcoming, but his frustrated willingness to help those in need is admirable. Mariana Treviño shines as Marisol, a new neighbor who relentlessly attempts to break Otto's shell. Treviño brings an infectious charm to this character, but she's far from one-dimensional. Marisol acts as the audience's guide to understanding Otto, yet subtly along that journey, layers of Marisol herself also unravel. 

The magic of A Man Called Otto comes in just that: understanding these characters. Director Marc Forster plants multiple seeds throughout the first two acts and waters them while audiences have their attention elsewhere. This gives a level of unpredictability to the narrative while also maintaining strong continuity. There is no hard twist for the sake of shock value. Every resolution makes storyline sense.

Praises aside, this film is not without its faults. The biggest issue A Man Called Otto runs into is with its pacing. The overall tempo is strong, but it accelerates from a backroads speed to highway momentum very quickly. This is almost unavoidable, as a slow-burning first two acts leave Forster with a final third to tie up a lot of loose ends. A Man Called Otto is full of tear-inducing resolutions by the third act, but they all happen so close to one another that it's hard to live in each individual one.

One of A Man Called Otto's resolutions is worth the 100 minutes of exposition alone. In a media era dominated by short-form content, evident by the abundance of climactic film scenes that populate many TikTok "for you" pages, A Man Called Otto reminds audiences what it means to invest in a film. Give A Man Called Otto the undivided attention it asks for, and in return, it will deliver an emotional monologue that is worth the price of admission. A walk-off home run only evokes 40,000 cheers because those same fans were in attendance for the first eight and a half innings. A Man Called Otto may not be all fireworks, but two acts of investment pay off in a blissful, misty-eyed way.

In a month that's historically cruel to the movie scene, A Man Called Otto is an unexpected breath of fresh air. It's emotional and uplifting, but most importantly, it's inspiring. The best films are the ones that make audiences think without explicitly telling them to do so. A Man Called Otto puts a magnifying glass on one man's quaint life experience and shows the good that can and will happen when people love thy neighbor.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

(Photo: Sony Pictures)

A Man Called Otto has its wide release this Friday, January 13th.