An Ordinary Man

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
An Ordinary Man Movie Poster Image
Language, mild violence in war-criminal drama.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Argues that all humans deserve to be humanized -- including, in this case, a fugitive war criminal. Sexism is presented as an accepted attitude. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tanja is strong and dedicated. But the facts of the General's past -- and his apparent lack of reckoning with them -- make it hard to consider his representation "positive"; he's certainly no role model. His crimes aren't detailed, and his anti-Muslim hatred is implied rather than discussed. 

Violence

Brief bursts of non-bloody violence; one death. Guns brandished multiple times and fired once. Rape and murder  described in the opening historical titles. A young woman forced at gunpoint to strip (her bare breasts seen). Description of an attempted inappropriate adult-child sexual relationship.

Sex

All content related to sex is of a violent/nonconsensual nature; see "Violence."

Language

Strong language includes "f--k" and variants, plus "ass," "damn it," "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking (vodka-like beverages) and smoking are part of the culture as presented. Some drinking to excess. Smoking is prevalent, though not celebrated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that An Ordinary Man is a drama starring Ben Kingsley as a wanted Serbian war criminal who bonds with a young cleaning woman (Hera Hilmar) while trying to avoid capture. The complexities of the Serbian conflict aren't explored, nor are the details of Kingsley's character's crimes -- it's really more of a character study than anything else. Mature content includes strong language (particularly "f--k"), a brief glimpse of a woman's bare breasts when she's forced to strip at gunpoint, verbal references to rape and murder, and short bursts of violence -- guns are seen/fired, and there's one death. Characters also smoke and drink, sometimes to excess.

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What's the story?

AN ORDINARY MAN stars Ben Kingsley as the General, a fugitive Serbian war criminal being shuttled around his country by allies (primarily Miro, played by Peter Serafinowicz) to avoid capture. The General's enforced seclusion is a lonely life; then young cleaning woman Tanja (Hera Hilmar) stumbles into his sphere. As the General grows more reckless, the search for him draws tighter -- and he and Tanja form an unlikely bond. 

Is it any good?

This drama is extremely well-acted, and the cinematography and Serbian locations create a strong sense of place, but it lacks tension. An Ordinary Man isn't a thriller; it's a character study that delves into the humanity of someone who's committed inhuman acts. The film benefits from the expertise of Oscar-winner Kingsley and exciting Icelandic newcomer Hilmar as the initially hapless maid. Kingsley's General has his routine, prefers certain music, is starved for human connection. And Hilmar is a real find. Her outstanding performance is intelligent and multilayered. When she reveals new sides of herself, they're both surprising and organic. Hilmar has had limited Stateside exposure (though one role was in the controversial The Ottoman Lieutenant, also with Kingsley); hopefully, we'll be seeing much more of her. 

But the film's fundamental lack of tension is a real problem. An Ordinary Man skirts certain realities: There's very brief discussion of the General's crimes; his hatred of Muslims is only briefly alluded to in a glance at a woman praying, and the human costs of what he's done are referred to only philosophically. The film is really about the futility of horrific actions taken "in service of ... country." We're never really afraid for his capture; he belies the supposed danger with careless actions, which would serve as a strong character trait in a thriller if there were actual consequences throughout. But as it is, that lack of aftereffects, especially in the way the film glides over his crimes, is probably the missing ballast. The superb Max (2002), which fictionally examined Hitler's failed-artist past, also hinted ominously at the dictator's future, making the whole exercise much more consequential. Likewise, Death and the Maiden, also starring Kingsley, carried more weight. An Ordinary Man owes more in tone to writer-director Brad Silberling's previous 10 Items or Less, in which an experienced older man (Morgan Freeman) wistfully instructs and learns from a beautiful young woman (Paz Vega). Ordinary doesn't captivate, but its performances reward connoisseurs of acting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the General is portrayed in An Ordinary Man. Actors always want to "find the humanity" in their roles, perhaps especially when they play villains. Is this movie different from others in how it portrays someone who committed war crimes? If so, how? Why do you think the filmmakers made those choices, cinematically and artistically?

  • What would you say the film's themes are? Is it making a political statement, a philosophical one, or neither? Does it justify anyone's actions? Or is it ultimately about the futility of those wartime actions? 

  • For a movie about war crimes, there's not a huge amount of violence in the film. Did that make the scenes that included violent moments more upsetting or effective? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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