An Ordinary Man (2018)


Sometimes a film can take hold of you based on the performances alone. Obviously, with a commanding presence that an actor like Ben Kingsley is capable of, you’re at least in for something memorable whenever the camera points directly at him.  Think of him in SEXY BEAST. Yes, it’s a stylish noir heist, but it didn’t do much new cinematically in the tradition of the gangster film milieu. This time however in Brad Silberling’s AN ORDINARY MAN, there are two central performances that secure and demand your attention.  One is a legend, the other is a fairly new face that I’ve been assured will soon break through to the mainstream. This very unusual cat and mouse game, where both identities keep changing, make the film memorable if not unique.  Even if the script isn’t anything that stands out above and beyond an episode of THE AMERICANS, for example.  Brad Silberling hasn’t made a movie in awhile, which is a shame in my opinion. I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning and he made two very personal films in a row that moved me to the core.  (Please listen to the interview I conducted with him for more on the subject).

AN ORDINARY MAN feels like a scene-study exercise in the form of an intimate play in which two actors invest full measures in a script that may seem under-realized for some.  The General (Ben Kingsley) is to be shuffled from hideout to hideout to prevent being captured by authorities. He’s accused of war crimes for his actions inside former Yugoslavia and his associates demand that will he squirrel away in a dusty apartment.   At one instance, he demands that he not be sequestered inside, but also, he must never be caught.  Paraphrasing that sentiment for sure, but really he doesn’t want to always remain hidden away.  He wants to enjoy what the outside world has to offer.  The General’s only companion there will be Tanja (a radiant Hera Hilmar), a cleaning woman in her 20s that may not be all that she seems.  At first they clearly have an offbeat rapport, but they grow to respect and confide in one another.  It’s a complex, imperfect connection that only becomes more compelling as the short running time commences.  It takes patience and careful attention to be drawn in, and while it ultimately becomes a tad too predictable, it’s an extension of the humanistic side of Silberling that can also be found in his low-key two-character dramedy 10 ITEMS OR LESS. 

The film’s production value is its high point, thanks to Christophe Beck Gonzales’ haunting piano compositions, Miljen Kreka Kljakovic's detailed set design and Magdalena Górka's spot-on photography. The sense of place is palpable: the graffiti-covered, war-torn buildings on eerily empty streets, as well as the lush greenery and sweeping mountains not far from the urban blight. Silberling’s score could’ve been fleshed out even further, but this is also a more inward story that moves at a very leisurely pace.  My hope is that his return here, will lead to more work since he deserves an even bigger canvas to create on.  As it stands, AN ORDINARY MAN is an ordinary film that is elevated by the conviction of the actors.  There wasn’t a second of boredom, but I also sensed where the story would go throughout. I truly hope that Silberling has a comeback and success though, because he has a great history worth knowing all over again since this doesn’t reach the highs of something like MOONLIGHT MILE.  Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of the actors, it is definitely well worth the effort to seek it out this week.  Check out my interview with the great Brad Silberling linked here. 

James Laczkowski