Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell, Stephen Henderson.
British theatre director Stephen Daldry tackles big political and emotional themes in his films (Billy Elliott, The Reader, etc). Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close poignantly deals with the devastating aftermath and sense of loss in the wake of 9/11 as people tried to adjust to life after the tragedy. Daldry doesn’t trivialise the significance of the event. However he does allow the film to wallow in some unnecessary and cheap sentimentality that some may find offensive.
The film is based on the 2005 novel written by Jonathan Safron Foer (Everything Is Illuminated, etc). Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, etc) cuts out several subplots but retains much of the quirky tone and episodic nature of the novel. He gives the film a non-linear structure, with lots of flashback sequences, which may prove a distraction for many.
A year after his jeweller father was killed in the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, precocious nine-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is still struggling to make sense of what he calls “the worst day.” Oskar also keeps his father’s last messages on an old answering machine as a way of remaining connected.Oskar is mildly autistic and hyperactive. One day while rummaging through his father’s closet he finds an envelope with the word “Black” written on it, containing a key. He believes it has been left to him by his father, and he begins a desperate search through the city to discover which one of its many people named Black that it belongs to.
His quest brings him into contact with a number of people, all survivors in their own way, whose lives are touched by Thomas and his tale of loss. Included in this motley group is Stan (John Goodman), the wisecracking concierge at his apartment block, and the sympathetic Abby (Viola Davis) and her estranged husband William (Jeffrey Wright). Oskar is accompanied on his journey by an enigmatic elderly gentleman known as “the renter” (Max Von Sydow), who lives in his grandmother’s apartment. The renter has not spoken since WWII, and only communicates via a notebook in which he scribbles messages. He also has the words “yes” and “no” written on the palm of his hands.
The extraordinarily mature, confident and assured performance of newcomer Thomas Horn (a former Jeopardy! Kids Week winner) enhances the film’s emotional core. As we see most of the events through his eyes, he carries the weight of the movie on his relatively inexperienced shoulders. But he does a superb job, and it is puzzling how he was overlooked in the Oscar nominations.
Tom Hanks’s role here as Oskar’s father who encourages his pursuit of science and exploring is fairly small. However, his sincerity, generous spirit and honesty lends gravitas to his role, and his presence is keenly felt even when he is not on screen. And Sandra Bullock, in her first screen role since her Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side, brings compassion to her role as Linda, Oskar’s still-grieving and distant mother. Von Sydow is moving in a silent role that requires him to covey a range of emotions through facial expressions. Veteran stage actress Zoe Caldwell plays Oskar’s sympathetic grandmother and his closest friend.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a film that deals with universal themes of death, sorrow, forgiveness, reconciliation, family, and the healing power of love.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges has shot the film in bright, warm colours that wonderfully offsets its themes of grief and loss. However, Alexandre Desplat’s score is extremely manipulative and perfectly suits Daldry’s lack of restraint and subtlety.
Daldry judiciously uses some telling images from television news reports to flashback to that fateful day. But in reopening the raw wounds of 9/11 again in such obviously and shamelessly manipulative fashion this is also a self-important and overly long movie that is likely to divide audiences. Despite the strong cast, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is something of a disappointment.