Thomas Horn, Max Von Sydow, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright
Eric Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer
Ultraviolet Digital Copy; Featurette;
I'm not sure there's a brilliant film dying to get out of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a substantial post-9/11 weeper that was touted in early awards season as definitive Oscar bait but has found itself relegated to "almost ran" status and is likely to have a hard time finding a decent audience with its melancholy tones and intimately tragic story.
Oskar (former "Jeopardy" Kids Week winner Thomas Horn) is a grieving 11-year-old whose father (Tom Hanks) was one of thousands who perished on what Oskar refers to as "the Worst Day," a day that you and I refer to simply as "9/11." Oskar was always a bit of a quirky kid, the script hints at Asperger's Syndrome, but a kid whose relationship with his father was precious (seen in flashbacks) and who is now left with a mother (Sandra Bullock) whose pre-existing guarded nature has become even more reinforced as she struggles to cope with her own grief.
Left largely to his own devices, Oskar discovers a key that he is convinced holds a secret left by his father. He sets about to discover this secret, joined throughout much of the film by a silent chap known simply as "The Renter" (Max Von Sydow).
It is difficult to say whether or not it is possible to have a fictional 9/11 film resonate, most coming off as contrived and either simplistic or histrionic. It's a tall task for a story to be created that seems to so wholly want to encompass the grief of survivors, a community and a nation while telling its story through the eyes of an 11-year-old. In other words, this film was either destined for cinematic greatness or a sense of failure.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close isn't a failure, though some critics are likely to tell you so. Yet, there have been very few films where so many fine performances added up to so very little cinematic satisfaction. It's easy to understand why director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) chose to cast a newcomer in such a vital role. Young Thomas Horn seems to naturally embody Oskar's obvious intellect and inward searching, yet there are times when he seems unable to achieve the layers needed for such a complex character. He "plays" Oskar just fine, but for a film with this much emotional depth Horn really needed to "become" Oskar more completely. His performance isn't weak, but neither does it satisfy emotionally like it ought to given the heightened dramatics of this story.
On the other hand, Max Von Sydow gives what may very well be the film's only truly award-worthy performance. Interestingly enough given that this is the year when a silent film, The Artist, is a strong Oscar contender, it is Von Sydow's silent performance in this film that is so incredibly memorable. Von Sydow seems energized and inspired here, embodying "The Renter" with masterful use of non-verbal, physical acting and the dramatic power of suggestion.
Both Hanks and Bullock are fine here, Bullock in particular having a rather extraordinary scene towards the end of the film that reveals much previously not known about her character. Hanks' role, while seen largely in flashback, is a perfect role for Hanks as the kind of dad pretty much any child would love to have. As we've come to expect from Viola Davis, her performance may be brief but she continues to be one of those actresses where you ask yourself "Where has she been all these years?"
While the film occasionally deeply resonates, there are also an ample amount of times when it becomes cloying and emotionally manipulative. This is further exacerbated by Alexandre Desplat's soaringly annoying original score and Eric Roth's well intended yet rather obvious dialogue based upon a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
As much as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a lesser Daldry film, one can see quite vividly what Daldry is trying to accomplish here and the obvious attempts at emotional and circumstantial balance he attempts to add to the film. The film is occasionally funny, occasionally sweet, occasionally very weepy and, especially for survivors of 9/11, also occasionally rather overwhelming including a wholly unnecessary perspective on the image of bodies as they fell out of the Twin Towers.
There may never be a truly effective 9/11 film, at least not in my lifetime. There are certain life experiences that seem too larger than life and too all encompassing to ever be captured on film. Yet, if we're being honest with ourselves, there are numerous stories over the years where we've thought the very same thing and, slowly but surely, filmmakers found a way to tell the stories that helped heal the human psyche and the global community.
So, maybe one day there will be such a film. One day, perhaps, we will even look differently at Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and think "Wow, what an incredible film." For me, Adam Sandler's Reign Over Me remains the closest Hollywood has come to capturing a personal 9/11 experience and even it is immensely flawed.
Daldry's film? Not so incredibly close.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic