“An Ordinary Man” – In no sense of the word [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
“An Ordinary Man,” written and directed by Brad Silberling, is a perplexing film. It is not perplexing in terms of how the story is told, only why there was a need to tell it.
A Bosnian general, convicted in absentia of crimes against humanity, has been hidden in plain sight since the end of “his” war. He is the last of the war criminals from the former Yugoslavia still at large, something that is causing the delay in admitting the country (whichever of the splintered territories it may be) to the EU. The United States, in an effort to help the beleaguered nation come to its senses, has offered a reward of $10 million to those who help capture him.
Unrepentant and unashamed, the General causes no end of problems for his handlers because of his desire to flaunt his presence and continue to go out in public. Exasperated, they sequester him in an apartment with a handler whose job is to control his wandering urges. Instead, he and the lovely young woman who is charged with his “care,” embark on a road trip. Philosophizing and justifying his actions under the guise of love for his people (as long as they’re not Muslim), they tour the countryside.
With Ben Kingsley as the General, one can be assured that inflection alone will give credence, or at least attention to what is being said. He remains a masterful actor but why he was drawn to this material is a mystery. The young woman who plays his minder, the Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, is also quite good, if that is a milestone in a film that feels it necessary to present the humanity of a war criminal. Silberling, a prolific television director, would have known better than to have written a road picture with Josef Mengele expounding on the virtues of his actions to a young, idealistic acolyte. But why, one must ask, did he think that presenting moral ambiguities about a murderer from a country that most people outside the Balkan states know little of and care even less for is more acceptable? Is there moral ambiguity to genocide? Is there moral ambiguity to those who commit it?
While there is nothing to recommend this film from the standpoint of story, the technical aspects, especially the cinematography, bear the right to praise. Magdalena Gorka, the director of photography, has created passages of undeniable beauty. Through her skill and artistry, it is easy to understand why someone would be passionate about the homeland and a trip to that countryside is tempting. I suppose there is something to be said about the juxtaposition of such incredible physical beauty and the ugliness of the actions in support of it. But in the end, there’s still not much to be said, period.
Opening Friday April 13 at the ArcLight Hollywood and on demand