Few actors can say their range of leading man portraiture covers Indian pacifist legend and Serbian war criminal, which lends “An Ordinary Man,” about the latter, a commemorative aura for disguise veteran Ben Kingsley as he scrubs a hunted military man for traces of humanity.
Writer-director Brad Silberling’s recent-history what-if imagines a former general — Kingsley’s character is never given a name — as a fugitive protected in safehouses by a network of supporters, but who tests his freedom on the streets of Belgrade whenever he can to the dismay of his key handler (Peter Serafinowicz). It becomes a two-hander when a young maid (Hera Hilmar) appears and the general treats her by turns as a servant, comrade, daughter, lifeline to the outside world and, eventually, confidante.
The problem is that this is all highly schematic, an elaborately dressed window through which Silberling makes a Balkan butcher look sympathetic, whether in the platonic nature of the pair’s relationship, a shopping/dancing sequence or a third-act trip that has “tragic homecoming” written all over it. The location shooting in Serbia has an evocative ghostliness, but it’s a one-note coloring that ignores any sense of a culture wracked by war but forging ahead.
The movie’s one cliché-stomper — Kingsley and Hilmar delivering their English dialogue in U.K. dialects rather than Eastern European accents — is mostly distancing and gimmicky. Kingsley is certainly committed to the arc of tough guy stripped bare, but his gifts aren’t served well by an artificially studious attempt at applying Understanding 101 logic to a perpetrator of atrocities.
‘An Ordinary Man’
Rating: R, for language, some nudity and brief violence
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood