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.