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 Greengrasss 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 Oskars 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? Daldrys 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 Daldrys 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 Daldrys 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 audiences 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 planes 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 Marshs Man on Wire. Ostensibly a documentary about Philippe Petits 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.
Paul Greenwood's Review
When the Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks ago, thanks to a rule change, no-one knew exactly how many nominees there would be for best film.
After the titles of eight films were read out, most of them anticipated, there was an expectant pause and everyone thought that was that. But there then followed an audible gasp when a ninth nominee was announced: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Though it seemed to have long since slipped off the radar, ironically it had been on many peoples early predictions lists given its pedigree a pair of Oscar-winning stars (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock) and a director whose every film has flirted with Academy glory.
But that can sometimes be a drawback and project the view that such a worthy prestige picture is little more than an awards courter, particularly given the extremely sensitive subject matter.
That subject matter, the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, is largely kept to a background event here, yet it informs the entire movie.
At its outset, young Oskar (Thomas Horn) has just lost his father during the attack, and Hanks appears in flashbacks, setting up a warm and emotional core as a fun father, always engaging with Oskar on expeditions and puzzles.
Some time after his fathers death, Oskar finds a key among his belongings, and embarks on a quest around New York to try to find the lock it fits. Its his way of hanging on to the memory, the residue of his father, particularly as, at the same time, hes growing more distant from his mother (Bullock). The envelope containing the key just says Black, and Oskar sets out to find everyone in the city with that name in the hope they have some information.
Helping him in his search is his grandmothers lodger, a mute old man played by the also Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow, whose presence is welcomed yet turns out to be more or less irrelevant to the story.
Its one that suffers in the way many films adapted from novels do; too many characters, a wandering narrative and a lack of momentum. But it doesnt overplay the sorrow in a surprisingly airy first half, with the weight increasing steadily as the film progresses.
Theres nothing remarkable about the search, yet the need for an answer or a resolution grows for the audience as much as for Oskar. Grief and loss figure heavily, but a firm handle is kept on sentimentality and its never overwrought, eventually surprising in the place the real emotion is to be found.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close isnt going to come close to triumphing at the Oscars, but it would be churlish to deny it its nomination.