© 2012 Ray Wong
More than 10 years later, films about 9/11 are still difficult sell. The emotional aspects of these stories tend to be either too casual or sentimental. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of coping with the tragedy and loss from the unique point of view of a young boy with Aspergers.
Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a precocious and smart boy who has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. He's not antisocial, per se, but he is particular in his social contacts and behaviors with people around him. He has a close relationship with his father Thomas (Tom Hanks), a jeweler whose idea of fun with his son is the search of answers of the universe. Thomas understands his son's needs so much that he will do anything to provoke Oskar's curiosity, to help him come out of his shell.
Everything changes on 9/11/2001. Oskar watches in horror as the "worst day" unfolds. Worst of all, he listens to messages on the answering machine left by his father, who is trapped on the top floor of the World Trade Center. As Oskar and his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) deal with their loss of that fateful day, Oskar's relationship with her turns cold and distant as nothing makes sense to him, now that his father is gone.
A year later, Oskar discovers a key among his father's belongings and he sets out of find the lock for the key. He believes that it is a clue left by his father, so that he can still be close to Oskar. His quest becomes an obsession. Meanwhile, he makes an unlikely friend with his grandmother's renter (Max von Sydow), a lonesome mute man who has a dark secret past. Together they set out to search for an answer, and Oskar is in for a big surprise.
Tom Hanks (Larry Crowe) has an important but brief role as Oskar's father in flashbacks. Hanks' performance is amiable and affectionate, but perhaps a bit too earnest, almost an idealized version of what a perfect father should be. Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), after a two-year hiatus, fares better as Hanks' grieving wife. Bullock does a good job conveying the pain and loneliness and distance as well as the love toward her sometimes-difficult son.
The star of the show is newcomer Thomas Horn, who carries the movie almost from beginning to end. That's no small feat for a young actor, not to mention in his first acting job ever. Horn does a respectable job, considering he has to act not just a normal kid, but one with Aspergers. At times, he fails to convince us, but given the challenging role, his performance is fine.
Zoe Caldwell (Birth) is excellent as Grandma. Her silent grief and pain are evident in her expression and mannerism. Talk about understated acting. Max von Sydow (Shutter Island) is amazing as the Renter, while he acted without a single line of dialogue. His scenes with Oskar are some of the best in the movie. Viola Davis (The Help) is in good form as a sad divorcee, and Jeffrey Wright (The Source Code) is wonderfully stoic as her estranged husband.
Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, the screenplay by Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) walks a fine line between poignant and pretentious. Roth has a penchant for introspective narration. The problem is, the first-person narration of a young boy with Apsergers can be annoying at times. The intercuts between flashbacks and present-time can be disorienting at times. Nonetheless, the plot unfolds interestingly, and we're always curious about where it's going, and whether Oskar will find what he's looking for. Intellectually, the story is spot on. Emotionally, it seems to somehow miss its mark. Often, the emotions seem forced and manipulated, and I feel like I am being coerced into feeling something that may or may not be there. Thus I find myself not often emotionally moved as expected.
Stephen Daldry's (The Reader) direction is masterful. His use of camera and imageries and sounds and colors is great. The production is handsome and realistic at the same time. Unfortunately, at 129 minutes, the film feels overtly long, and sometimes Daldry lingers, perhaps trying too hard to invoke certain emotions. The result is a feeling of pretentiousness.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an interesting story with an interesting protagonist and a journey that is worth telling. Unfortunately, the execution simply tries too hard and the result falls short. It's incredibly close, though.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Zoe Caldwell, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman
Director: Stephen Daldry
Writers: Eric Roth (based on novel by Jonathan Safran Foer)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for emotional thematic material, disturbing images and language
Running Time: 129 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 8
Total - 7.6 out of 10.0