A Different Man is a strikingly original film with a career redefining performance from Sebastian Stan that will unsettle audiences.
A Different Man is one of the darkest satires I’ve ever seen. Edward (Sebastian Stan) has a highly troubled life, not only because of his deeply disfigured face, but also due to the way he carries himself. When he participates in an experimental drug trial that drastically changes his appearance, he finally starts to live the life he’s always wanted. This dream life quickly turns into a nightmare when a play sparks Edward’s desires to change and he becomes obsessed with trying to reclaim what he’s lost.
From the very start of A Different Man, I knew that I was witnessing a totally unique artistic vision. Writer and director Aaron Schimberg has control of every frame, and even if the story isn’t for everyone, the high quality production value of this film is undeniable. The framing in particular is always fascinating, and performance driven. Schimberg always knows when to have an actor’s face fill up the whole frame and it feels as if he has control over every single emotion the audience feels during the runtime.
The beginning of A Different Man, before Edward’s transformation, feels very different than what follows. His life is riddled with anxiety, and the audience feels every bit of that. It feels like a more toned down version of the first act of Beau is Afraid, where everything seems to be going wrong. Every sudden noise is jarring, and you feel the discomfort that Edward has because he looks different. At this time, Stan’s makeup is some of the best that will come all year. We have seen actors buried under makeup plenty of times before, but I’ve never seen makeup like this where I questioned if there were two different actors playing Edward.
A Different Man’s satire looks at self confidence and the obsession we all have with how others perceive us. Because of Edward’s facial disfigurement, he carries himself in a victimized manner. This is completely understandable because while we never see anyone directly treat him poorly, he is clearly seen as other. Who wouldn’t want to change that if given the opportunity? The tragic and painfully funny part of this story kicks in when we get to witness how much Edward’s quality of life improves after his procedure.
While it’s nice to see someone who was in such emotional turmoil striving with his new life, this joy becomes a tough watch when Oswald (Adam Pearson) enters his life. Oswald also has a facial disfigurement, but is a lot more confident in his own skin. Both Edward and the audience start to realize how different society treats Oswald because of this confidence, especially compared to the way Edward was initially treated. This knowledge and unrealized potential is what starts to lead him to a downward spiral and creates a truly unpredictable ending.
The main highlight of A Different Man are the three core performances. Sebastian Stan gives a performance I was unaware he was capable of, especially on a physical level. By the end of the film, Edward has to go through so much, and without an actor that is so in command of his craft. There are so big swings A Different Man takes, and with Stan didn’t make his portrayal so believable, none of the satire would pay off. Even though I saw this film at the very start of 2024, I would be shocked if he didn’t receive some accolades during the 2025 awards season.
Supporting players Renate Reinsve and Adam Pearson are quite phenomenal here as well as Ingrid and Oswald. Reinsve feels like she is giving two different performances from where we first meet her and where her arc ends up. Ingrid is an incredibly flawed person whose morals are never known and Reinsve makes every scene she’s in a facianiting watch. Pearson is incredibly charismatic and a pure scene stealer. In the scenes that Edward and Oswald share, Edward is in a lot of emotional pain, but Pearson’s star power is so alluring that just like everyone in the film, you’re too drawn to Oswald to care.
Almost any criticism I had with A Different Man, the film addressed in some way. For example, the way that disabled people are represented in this film could be perceived as offensive, especially since Sebastian Stan is playing a member of that community. However, Ingrid and Edward eventually have a conversation about this very topic when discussing a play she is writing. I constantly felt like this film was always one step ahead of my thoughts, and I was always impressed with everything happening on screen.
Overall, A Different Man is an original achievement that I absolutely adored. It is certainly not for everyone, with some of the disturbing imagery, but I was always immensely entertained. The makeup work, direction and score will be some of the best works I’ll see all year and the satire brings up some interesting ideas that I can’t wait to discuss with others. A24 has another hit on their hands with A Different Man, and hopefully a bold film like this will find its audience and become the classic I believe it is.
A Different Man premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will be distributed by A24. Read all our Sundance reviews!
Image credit for the header: Sebastian Stan’s Instagram.