Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: A Review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Dir: Stephen Daldry; *ing: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow

When is soon, too soon?

 Perhaps understandably, Hollywood still has to contend with pre-emptive criticism when it comes to producing films dealing with 9/11, now over a decade after the day. Whenever such a project is found to be in the works, one can sense critics and audiences alike bristling in anticipation at what, one supposes, they fear might not treat the subject with appropriate solemnity and reverence. While a film like Paul Greengrass’ United 93, an imagined recreation of actual events, was eventually given props for a job well done after initial terse reactions, the jury still seems to be out on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a fictional account of a young boy trying to make sense of his father’s death in the twin towers by setting himself on a quest he thinks the deceased man has left for him to decipher.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, the film is stacked with the kind of improbabilities that readily pepper new literature: 10 year-old Oskar (Horn) is preternaturally smart with an uncanny eye and sense for detail, but also lacking in social skills so sorely that he suspects he may have Asperger’s; he never takes public transport, and carries around a tambourine because the sound helps calm his nerves whenever he feels stressed or scared. It has been a year since his father, Thomas (dependable Everyman Hanks, seen in flashbacks), was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Thomas was an incredibly involved parent, who recognized that his strange little boy needed special attention to help hone and structure his peculiar skills. He would design for Oskar intriguing “reconnaissance expeditions”, mysteries to be solved with clues hidden in odd places, to be discovered and added to the larger puzzle. After his death, Oskar grows ever distant from his mother Linda (Bullock), who always seemed to be the outsider in the equation anyway, but finds a lifeline, and a way to stay connected to his father, in the shape of a key he finds hidden in a vase, which he assumes is the starting point of another one of his father’s assigned mysteries. Thus begins Oskar’s journey up and down and across Manhattan as he enters and exits many people’s lives, trying to find the lock that will fit the key. As a companion, he has his grandmother’s tenant (referred to as The Renter and played by the always-brilliant Von Sydow), a man who never speaks and may or may not be Oskar’s grandfather, who abandoned his family when Thomas was a baby.

Despite the rather convoluted plot contrivances, as well as the almost compulsive penchant for near-whimsical quirkiness that both director Daldry and writer Eric Roth display, Extremely Loud… is not without its moments, thanks largely to veteran thesp Von Sydow, and also the ferociously fearless central performance by debutant Horn. Oskar is not an easy character, neither to play nor to behold, and could so easily have come off as little more than a precocious, willful brat, but Horn handles his lot with remarkable maturity, leading us into Oskar’s inner mass of overwhelming pain and loss without, crucially, ever becoming cloying. What lets the film down is the script’s repeated descent into overwrought pathos through a number of mini-revelations that only serve to distance one from the believability of the situation. Elsewhere, the film suffers when it becomes annoyingly verbose where it should offer up profound silences.

Extremely Loud… may not be the film to change people’s minds about 9/11 films, but it’s a respectable enough entry in the category, if only due to its actors.

 

Cult: Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) – The late, great filmmaker Anthony Minghella made the anti-Ghost, as grieving Juliet Stephenson learns how not to move on after a loved one’s departure.

Current: The Descendants – George Clooney grapples with loss, of many different kinds, in Alexander Payne’s Oscar-nominated dramedy.

Coming Attraction: Zero Dark Thirty – Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow is at the helm of this drama about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

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