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Tom Hanks scores another win as ‘A Man Called Otto’


“A Man Called Otto”

Rated PG-13. At the AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters.

Grade: A-

He has been Forrest Gump. He has been Woody in “Toy Story” films. He has been Captain Miller in “Saving Private Ryan,” Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13.” He has been the title character in “Cast Away.” He has been the compassionate prison guard in “The Green Mile” and many, many more.

Why is Tom Hanks so able to get inside our heads as so many different characters? It is a tribute to Hanks’ artistry and a grand mystery to be sure. But Hanks does it again in Marc Forster’s “A Man Called Otto.” A remake of the great Swedish entry and Academy Award nominee from 2015, Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove,” featuring the great Swedish actor Rolf Lassgard, “A Man Called Otto” is also based on the 2015 international best-seller by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.

Several months after the death of his beloved wife and after being more or less forced to retire from his engineering job, Otto Anderson (Hanks) has decided to kill himself. He is in a local hardware store near Pittsburgh, buying the items he needs to carry out the act, including a screw with a circular head and 5 feet of nylon rope. The ruckus Otto causes when he is told he must pay for an additional foot of rope should tell us all we need to know. In the wake of his wife’s death, Otto has become a recluse in addition to being a fastidious crank. Even though he has been forced off his condo association, Otto, who has an enlarged heart, “makes the rounds” every morning, making sure people are using the right recycle bins and not parking in no parking zones. He has been fighting real estate developers trying to take units away from ailing, elderly owners.

Into Otto’s life comes something new and magical. Her name is Marisol (a marvelous Mariana Trevino), and she is from Mexico, pregnant and married to someone that Otto dubs a “nitwit” named Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Marisol and Tommy already have two young children Luna (Christiana Montoya) and Abbie (Alessandra Perez). The children take to Otto at once, even after he attacks a clown at a hospital after the clown fails to return a keepsake quarter Otto’s late wife Sonya (Rachel Keller) told him was lucky. Throughout the action, Otto visits Sonya’s grave with fresh flowers. The film is full of admittedly dull flashbacks to Otto and Sonya’s meeting and courtship, their decision to marry and other events in their lives. Hanks’ son Truman Hanks plays the young Otto with understated strength.

Otto is what we often call “a character.” He is set in his ways. He adheres to rules. He dresses the same every day. The flashbacks show us that this was not always the case. Sonya opened Otto up to the world. She helped him make friends with their neighbors. One of them, Reuben (played as a young man by Lavel Schley, an older man by Peter Lawson Jones), now suffers from dementia. Once upon a time, Reuben and Otto bought competing Chevrolets and Fords. Reuben’s wife Anita (Juanita Jennings) is being pressured by the developer (Mike Birbiglia of Shrewsbury) to sell their condo.

Marisol showers Otto with food he relishes in plastic bins. Otto has not yet bothered to have his power and phone turned back on. Otto meets a trans teen, who was once his wife Sonya’s student. In many ways, “A Man Called Otto” is a reconfigured version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Otto as George Bailey and Marisol, Sonya and a stray ragdoll cat as Otto’s angels. In Hanks’ hands, an angry crank becomes monastical and almost saint-like. Produced by among others Rita Wilson (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), “A Man Called Otto” will cast its spell on you.

(“A Man Called Otto” contains mature themes and profanity)

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