Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (12A)

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (12A)

  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Max von Sydow, James Gandolfini, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Adrian Martinez
  • Director: Stephen Daldry
  • Duration: 129 mins
  • Year: 2011

Oskar is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can't be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father's closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him.


Alison Rowat's Review

How soon is too soon? It is not a question that has seemed to unduly trouble filmmakers when it comes to 9/11. For a certain type of director, writer or documentarian, major tragedies will always act like a lamp to a moth.

With the exception of Paul Greengrass’s United 93, it is invariably a mistake, and so it is with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and helmed by British director Stephen Daldry, this is an expensively made, well-meaning drama that tries to deal with a subject much greater than itself by tugging unnecessarily hard, and often, on the emotions. By opting to be blatant, it says nothing but the trite and obvious.

The leading man of the piece is a boy, nine-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn). We first meet him at the funeral of his father, who died in one of the buildings of the World Trade Center on 9/11. From there, Daldry, the director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, advances one year on. He continues to wind the clock back and forth to examine the relationship between Oskar and his dad, played by Tom Hanks, and how the boy and his mother (Sandra Bullock) are attempting to cope now that he is gone.

Since a plain old examination of grief is not considered enough to drive the movie, the story gives Oskar a mystery to solve. While rummaging in a cupboard one day, the boy finds an envelope marked “Black” with a key inside. Thinking it is part of one of the treasure hunt games he used to play with his dad, Oskar resolves to reunite the key with its owner. Armed with a New York phone book and fighting spirit, he begins his quest.

To this, Daldry and writer Eric Roth add another plot strand involving Max von Sydow as a mysterious man renting a room from Oskar’s grandmother. As shy, panicky, but fiercely determined Oskar continues his odyssey of New York on foot, he comes across many other tales. All of these, in their own small way, help him to piece together what he is going through.

Too much? Daldry’s film has only just begun. Everything about this picture, from the overdone performances to the elaborate plotting, is too much, and then some. Come the halfway mark, viewers will likely have gone one of two ways. The first camp may see Daldry’s picture as a heartfelt exploration of grief unbound, while the second will be shaking their heads at such overt, and often distressing, attempts to manipulate the emotions.

We know the first camp includes those members of the Academy whose votes have ensured Daldry’s picture is up for two Oscars: for best picture, and for Max von Sydow as best supporting actor. As with Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader, Daldry is beginning to collect Oscar nominations like Air Miles. While he has personally yet to make a mark on the scoreboard, Kate Winslet won for The Reader and Nicole Kidman for The Hours.

In its role as a surprise Oscar contender, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close calls to mind that other Academy Award outsider, The Blind Side, a heavy-on-the-heartstrings sporting drama which also starred Sandra Bullock, and for which she won a best actress Oscar. One might put it down to the differing tastes of America and Britain, but Daldry is English born and bred.

However, in his instincts he is more Hollywood slickness than British kitchen sink. As he has demonstrated in his previous movies, he is not a great believer in less is more when it comes to playing on the audience’s emotions. While that might have worked a treat in the likes of Billy Elliot, it has the opposite effect here.

Roth might have rescued matters, but this is the Roth of Forrest Gump and The Horse Whisperer rather than the clear-eyed observer of The Insider and Munich. Add to this the source material by Froer, which divided readers as much as this film will split cinema-goers, and you have the makings of a movie that some viewers will instinctively reject.

So far, art has barely even begun to add much to the sum of knowledge about what happened on September 11, 2001. Greengrass came closest by the simple means of adding very little to a tale that needed no embellishment. In United 93, he allowed the actions of the plane’s passengers to speak for themselves.

In the same way, one of the most powerful books you will read about that day is the official report by the 9/11 Commission. Also due an honourable mention is James Marsh’s Man on Wire. Ostensibly a documentary about Philippe Petit’s traverse of the Twin Towers, it said more about the strength of the human spirit than any number of feature films, particularly this effort by Daldry.