EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE
By Gary Murray
Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow
Written by Eric Roth
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Running time 129 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
There are films that generate headlines from the moment of inception. Sequels and comic book films have fans before one even sees one frame of the finished product. Then there are films that have no early buzz and no built in pre-release audience. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a movie that just came out of nowhere and is one of the best films of 2011.
The film is the story of Oskar (Thomas Horn), an intelligent kid who is having trouble grasping with the death of his father (Tom Hanks). The two had a special bond and Dad liked to challenge the boy’s mind. They played mental games and tested one another. This is one heavy-duty brilliant but socially shy child with a caring father.
Soon, 9/11 happens and Dad is gone. This just alienates the child who doesn’t have that close of a relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) and the rest of the world. Mom is having her own epic struggle to cope with the loss of her husband and being a single parent. She loves her son but the two just cannot find any common ground.
One day, Oskar finds a key that is labeled ‘Black’. He believes that the key is a clue that his Dad left behind, a clue that will lead him to an explanation. The kid cannot believe that what has happened to his father is not some part of some grand game, a challenge of the child’s intellect and deductive reasoning.
The young man begins a search of all the Blacks in the phone book. He is looking for the lock that will marry the key. This begins a journey through all of New York, meeting different people and finding out how 9/11 has affected their lives.
He befriends the renter of a room in his Grandmother’s apartment. The man (Max von Sydow) no longer speaks, not because he cannot but because he does not want to. The two slowly build a relationship that almost becomes a friendship. The boy believes that somehow the renter may be connected to his expedition, he just doesn’t know how.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close becomes a journey of both self-discovery and of healing. Oskar learns how to talk to others and uses all his skills of reason to figure out the pathways to breakthrough. This is the kind of film that is so open, one doesn’t have any idea how it will end. We discover just as Oskar does, as we make our way to the end.
This film would never have worked if not for the performance of Thomas Horn. This young man gives a reading that covers every emotion in the spectrum. While Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are billed as the stars, this kid has to carry the bulk of the work. He is fascinating to watch as he deconstructs the world around him. Going against his introvert instincts, Oskar must fight his basic impulses and confront strangers to find his answers. The journey changes him in ways he could never fathom.
Max von Sydow should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination in his role as the renter. He does not utter a word but gives a performance that speaks volumes. There are these sorrowful glances he gives the boy, these looks of struggling to talk but being pained by the idea of utterance. It is an emotionally heartbreaking reading that deserves to be honored.
For such a dark idea, the film is surprisingly bright. The colors of NYC just jump off the screen. Director Stephen Daldry knows that he is dealing with some deep seeded emotional material and juxtaposes it will brilliant images to keep the film on an even keel. He paints NYC in much the same way that Woody Allen does, as a perfect city backdrop in which anything can and does happen on a daily basis.
A hundred years from now, there will be a genre called ‘9/11 films’. Just like there are WWII films and gladiator movies, films based on the terror attacks should be of such a high volume that they demand their own discussion in film books and in cinema classes. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is going to be a textbook example on how to present the material. Yes, it is a bit overwrought but the material deserves the emotional context it is embedded in. The terror attacks were a moment that changed US lives and the film is just a reflection of how epic that change was. In the end, it become a testament more to love than to hate.