'An Ordinary Man': Film Review

Kingsley's charismatic turn is worth the price of admission.

Ben Kingsley plays a war criminal who forms a close bond with his young maid in Brad Silberling's Belgrade-set thriller.

I'm not sure how he does it, but Ben Kingsley somehow manages to be simultaneously over-the-top and subtly restrained in An Ordinary Man. Playing an indicted war criminal on the lam known only as the "General," Kingsley delivers such a riveting performance that it becomes easy to overlook the film's less compelling aspects.

The drama from director-screenwriter Brad Silberling, whose Hollywood career has included such high-budget efforts as Casper and A Series of Unfortunate Events, is a relatively modest, low-budget affair. Much of the action takes place in a single apartment, and with some rewriting it's easy to imagine the material as a stage play.

Refusing to leave Belgrade where he's still revered by certain segments of the population, the General lives both in hiding and in plain sight, frequently shuttled to different living quarters by his devoted handler (Peter Serafinowicz). Early in the film, he demonstrates that he's still a force to be reckoned with by unceremoniously knocking out a criminal attempting to rob a convenience store.

The General's latest abode is a large apartment in a vintage building, previously occupied by an elderly woman. Shortly after taking residence, he's surprised to hear someone opening the front door with a key. He greets the twentysomething woman (Hera Hilar) with a gun pointed at her head while she explains that her name is Tanja and that she's the former tenant's maid. The suspicious General makes her strip down to prove that she's not carrying weapons, with the not-so-subtle implication being that he still clearly enjoys wielding power over people.

Confident that she's who she says she is, he invites her to stay and work for him. The two slowly form a quasi-friendship, the General clearly relieved to have human companionship for a change. He also enjoys showing off; when they're out for a walk, he spots potential assassins and quickly gives them the slip. While she's still catching her breath, he laughs, explaining, "I'm sorry, that never gets old."

Prone to making such grandiose pronouncements as "I am everywhere and nowhere, I am myth" and "I will never hide and I will never be taken," the General starts loosening up in the company of the young woman. He also displays an intense curiosity about her life, asking many questions about her family background and even when she first menstruated. He also demonstrates his cooking skills while delivering a lengthy harangue about the poor quality of vegetables being sold these days.

The characters' relationship takes a drastic and surprising turn about halfway through, but even after this revelation the movie's momentum fails to move any more briskly, making it feel longer than its 90-minute running time.

The misleadingly titled An Ordinary Man relies on the charisma of its star. Kingsley delivers in spades, keeping us fascinated by a figure who in real life would probably engender little sympathy. He's well matched by Hilmar, who wisely underplays by comparison. And while the actor unashamedly takes the opportunity to chew the scenery at times, his brilliantly subdued reaction to a shocking event late in the film reminds us that his acting palette has many colors.

The film benefits from being shot on location, with the Belgrade exteriors providing vivid atmosphere, while Christophe Beck and Chilly Gonzalez's tense music score makes a strong contribution. 

Production companies: Enderby Entertainment, Lavender Pictures, Reveal Entertainment
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Hera Hilmar, Peter Serafinowicz, Robert Blythe

Director-screenwriter: Brad Silberling
Producers: Rick Dugdale, Brad Silberling, Ben Kingsley
Executive producers: Daniel Petrie, Jr., Jonathan Hendriksen, Tim Williams, Yoshi Kawamura, Don Monaco, Patricia Monaco
Director of photography: Magdalena Gorka
Production designer: Miljen Kreka Kljakovic
Editor: Leo Trombetta
Composers: Christophe Beck, Chilly Gonzalez
Costume designer: Momirka Bailovic

Rated R, 90 minutes