9/11 and one gifted son’s search
If “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” had as its backdrop just about any other tragedy, its subject matter involving a young boy’s grieving over the loss of his father and his subsequent obsession to find where a special key fits, the film would not be so polarizing. But given that it involves 9/11, it is easy to see why many filmgoers feel the story relies too much on the horror of that event while mining sentimentality from nearly every frame.
Perhaps even 10 years on it is too soon, and too personal.
In reality though, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” isn’t cloying or manipulative. It may try too hard, and it borders on the implausible early and often, but the performance of newcomer (and “Jeopardy” contestant) Thomas Horn is relentlessly earnest and believable. It needs to be, because director Stephen Daldry (“The Hours,” “Billy Elliot”) gives Horn’s character Oskar Schell, who appears to have a high functioning form of autism, an overwhelming amount of detail and personality. At times Oskar is as frustrating as he is bright.
Recognizing his son’s unique idiosyncrasies, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) nurtures the boy’s inquisitive nature. That penchant for puzzle solving fuels Oskar’s desperate attempt to make sense of his father’s death in the World Trade Center—a need that is significantly provoked when an envelope with a single word written on it and with key stashed inside accidentally surfaces.
Not unlike Oskar’s mind, which seems to travel at light speed, Daldry and screenwriters Eric Roth and Jonathan Safran Foer cram a ton of minutiae into the proceedings, including some wonderfully colorful characters. (Legendary actor Max Von Sydow pops up as a mute renter and accomplice at just the right time.) Oskar’s journey is at times impossibly ambitious, warmly humorous, and genuinely moving. Sandra Bullock is sufficiently sensitive in a small but moving portrayal as Oskar’s mother.
Anyone having been around a kid like Oskar will find his behavior entirely believable. Is it really improbable for a child to save the answering machine recording of his Father’s last messages and then to listen to them over an over? There are some pretty powerful insights into father-son relationships in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” But it is understandable if the very real events of 9/11 cast an impenetrable cloud over the film’s unfettered emotional tug.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” doesn’t deserve its best picture Oscar nomination. But, as one of the first mainstream commentaries on 9/11, it has some brilliant moments while more complete, effective films are bound to come.
Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language.