Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Cast:
Tom Hanks as Thomas Schell
Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell
Sandra Bullock as Linda Schell
Max von Sydow as The Renter
Viola Davis as Abby Black
Jeffrey Wright as William Black
Zoe Caldwell as Oskar’s Grandmother
Dennis Hearn as Minister
Paul Klementowicz as Homeless Man
Julian Tepper as Deli Waiter
Caleb Reynolds as Schoolboy
John Goodman as Stan the Doorman
Stephen Henderson as Walt the Locksmith
Hazelle Goodman as Hazelle Black
Jim Norton as Old Mr. Black
Carmen M. Herlihy as Denise Black
Ryka Dottavio as Maris Black
Chloe Roe as Stable Girl
Diane Cheng as Fong Black
Gregory Korostishevsky as Boris Black
Adrian Martinez as Hector Black
Marco Verna as E.S. Black
Brandon Jeffers as Hamlet
Martin E. Brens as Dick Black
Gustavo Brens as Richard Black
Brooke Bloom as Astrid Black
Rene Ojeda as Ramos Black
Madison Arnold as Alan Black
Kit Flanagan as Cassidy Black
Jenson Smith as Aurelia Black
Ray Iannicelli as Baz Black
Miguel Jarquin-Moreland as B.G. Black
Benjamin McCracken as Benjamin Black
Malachi Weir as Malachi Black
John Joseph Gallagher as Harlan Black
Sam K. Kaufman as Minch
Stephanie Kurtzuba as Elaine Black
Catherine Curtain as Leigh-Anne Black
Lola Pashalinski as Mona Black

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Story:
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) lost his father during the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, but when he finds a key he believes belonged to his father, he goes searching across the five boroughs of New York to try to find the lock it fits, his one clue being that it belongs to someone with the last name “Black.”

Analysis:
For only his fourth movie in eleven years, director Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”) tackles the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything Is Illuminated”) about a young boy trying to cope with the death of his father during the World Trade Center attacks. “Jeopardy” contestant Thomas Horn won the role of Oskar, who we meet as he talks about his father and the challenges he gives the young boy to find the “6th Borough” of New York City. After his father’s death, Oskar finds a new challenge when he discovers a key in a vase with the name “Black” written on it, and he goes on a quest to meet and talk to every New Yorker with that surname in hopes of finding the lock in which the key fits.

As someone who was deeply affected by the events of 9/11 and having recently lost my own father, I should be the perfect candidate for a film like this one to have some sort of effect on me; the fact that it doesn’t is clear proof how badly it fails as the whole thing seems more than slightly manipulative in its attempts to move viewers. The screenplay by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) uses many of the same storytelling tricks he’s used before, and you can almost tell which lines of narration come directly from the novel, because the words sound good, but don’t really mean much if you spend more than a few seconds thinking about them.

Oskar is a neurotic young man who suffers from every phobia under the sun, from crossing bridges to riding subways, making his quest that takes him all across the city that much more difficult. It’s not exactly easy on us, because Horn is easily one of the most annoying young actors we’ve seen on screen. He’s able to easily pull off the doe-eyed looks of a young Freddie Highmore that will make viewers tear up, but the character is so obnoxious, one of those too smart for their age brats who always seems to be one step ahead of the adults. Because Oskar never feels like a real kid, his situation seems just seems that much more implausible, so spending two hours with him on this journey is trying, especially so soon after watching a similar quest in “Hugo.”

Far stronger performances are delivered by Sandra Bullock and Max von Sydow as his mother and a man living in his grandmother’s building, whose silent nature would make him a great fit for “The Artist.” Their scenes with Horn are significantly better than anything else in the film, especially Von Sydow’s moments, which are the first time the film finally starts to warm up, but after half an hour, he’s gone and things start to lag again. Viola Davis is also quite good, but she’s underused, only appearing briefly early on and then again later. Despite getting top billing in the credits, Tom Hanks has very little time on screen, mainly goofing around with the kid and not doing anything particularly special.

Trying to make up for the weak story, the entire film is over-directed by Daldry, who creates a stylish film that uses lots of interesting techniques to keep it visually interesting, something that’s necessary to make up for the somewhat lackluster story. It also features another perfectly fine score by Alexander Desplat, but it seems weak compared to some of his other offerings this year, maybe because it has to work harder to keep things interesting. The results end up come closer to something like “The Soloist” than Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.”

It’s plainly obvious that the film’s biggest problems come directly from the novel and the decision to make 9/11 a primary catalyst for the story. Oskar’s father could have been killed any number of ways, and the use of 9/11 seems pointless. Since we know from the beginning he lost his father in the World Trade Center, something we’re reminded of constantly – the big third act reveal when Oskar learns the truth about the key and makes a confession of his own fails to deliver any sort of emotional impact. There have already been at least two far better movies about grief and loss this year, both with far better child actors, too, and Daldry’s movie never earns its tears or its few attempted laughs.

In hindsight, it’s not surprising Warner Bros. have been deliberately hiding this movie from New York film critics, probably because they knew that anyone who lived in the city during 9/11 would be outraged by the decision to try and make money based on the very real suffering of people affected. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” has some nice moments but overall is a failure in its exploration of the subject matter and it feels more exploitative than entertaining.

The Bottom Line:
What may have been a semi-decent drama is spoiled by an overwrought performance by the annoying young lead, and the fact that using 9/11 as a plot device is more than a little offensive to anyone who actually lost someone during 9/11.

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