Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (1 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader)
Written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich, Ali)
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Max Von Sydow
After months and months of debate of whether I would force myself to sit down and watch this film. At the end there were lots of tears because the protagonists journey is sad, and you know that ahead of time because the film centers on a terrible tragedy September 11, 2001. After I wiped away the tears I realized it was time my inner critic to step in to help curb my emotional reaction.
The film does not center on 9/11 but rather uses the event as the backdrop to tragedy in one families life. Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a ten year old boy who solves puzzles with his father Thomas (Tom Hanks). Thomas uses these puzzles in order to help his son who may or may not have Aspergers, which prevents his son from being able to cope with things the way other young boys do. On September 11, Thomas happened to have a meeting in the World Trade Center, and unfortunately he does not make it out of the building. After this happens Oskar finds a key in his father's closet that sends him on this journey to solve one of the many riddle and puzzles he thinks his father left him.
While reading some other critics reviews I was struck by a statement from Roger Ebert, and I would like to quote him as to not do his words injustice; he stated "No movie has ever been able to provide a catharsis for the Holocaust, and I suspect none will ever be able to provide one for 9/11. Such subjects overwhelm art. The artist's usual tactic is to center on individuals whose lives are a rebuke to the tragedy. They sidestep the actual event and focus on a parallel event that ends happily, giving us a sentimental reason to find consolation. That is small comfort to the dead" (Ebert, 2011). I honestly could not have said this better.
While I have not read the book the films direction/screenplay try to soothe audiences into feeling that this one young boys journey to find solace can help provide comfort for countless people who have felt loss throughout their lives. Horn's Oskar represents an off the beat hero whose journey is plagued with pain and suffering only to come out on the end with support from his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock).
Daldry has a knack for taking material like this and elevating it to be better than it should be, but his direction seems to abuse the point of the journey rather than letting unfold in a more simple less complex way. Daldry's tale of the Holocaust almost removed the emotional heft of the story, while this film panders to audiences to make his point.
Roth's screenplay is also one of the main culprits in making this film emotionally predictable Roth beats the emotional journey over the head time and time again. The audience never gets the opportunity to heal the gaping wound he opens time and time again. The story never seems plausible and you lose the sense of reality as this young boy goes across the Burroughs of New York City to find different people with the name Black (the name on the envelope with the key in it). From a tambourine that helps him cope to a man who does not speak (Von Sydow), like with past screenplays Roth does not tone down the implausible journey he maximizes it, and takes out the human elements of the story.
While the story and the direction lead viewers down the rabbit hole, the actors attempt to bring some realism to this story. Hanks and Bullock are supporting players, to fresh on the scene Thomas Horn. This was Horn's first acting gig ever, and while he is often obnoxious; he does a solid enough job in his first role as an actor. I found the role a bit grating, but I blame that more on the fact that screenwriter, and director used the characters Asperger's Disease as a crutch rather than letting the character evolve and develop. Bullock shines in her last scene, but is not often on screen, her last moments talking about Thomas are simply heart wrenching and some of rare genuine moments within the film. Von Sydow who was Oscar nominated for this film does the most solid acting in this film, but he does not even speak; he conveys all of his emotions through his face and action proving that the dialogue within this film was that bad.
The problems with this film is that it feels contrived and implausible. Watching a young boy cope with his father's death using this tragedy as a backdrop, feels wrong, and like the film attempts to put a band aid over bullet hole. The auteurs want audiences to be able to feel solace, but all this film provides is a more manufactured product, when the product should not have been made at all.