Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
PLOT: Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a precocious nine-year-old, loses his father (Tom Hanks) on 9/11. One year later, Oskar is still having a hard time dealing with his grief and relating to his mother (Sandra Bullock). One day, while looking through his father’s things, he finds a vase containing an envelope with the word “Black” written on the top right corner. Inside is a key. Oskar becomes obsessed with finding out what they key is for, leading him on a odyssey through Manhattan. He’s accompanied by his Grandmother’s mysterious tenant, known only as “The Renter” (Max Von Sydow)- an old man who’s unable to speak, and only communicates through pen and paper, and the words “yes” and “no”, which are tattooed in the palms of his hands.
REVIEW: EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is likely to make some major noise this Oscar season, with it being timed particularly well to round out 2011, which, of course- marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Coming from Stephen Daldry (THE HOURS, THE READER), and uber-producer Scott Rudin, this is a class effort all the way that never uses the tragic attacks in a mawkish, or cheap way (such as REMEMBER ME).
Rather, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE can be seen as a universal story about loss, and the attacks, while prominent, never totally dominate the film. Based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer (EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED), this film actually has more than a little in common with Martin Scorsese’s HUGO, with each centering around a newly fatherless child’s odyssey around a city recovering from trauma (9-11 here, WW1 in HUGO), and finding a new father figure in an elderly man with a tragic past (Ben Kingsley’s Georges Melies in HUGO, Von Sydow’s “Renter” here).
However, while HUGO is aimed at kids, there’s no doubt in my mind that Daldry’s film is targeted to an older audience- particularly the now grown-up kids who lost parents in 9-11, although that could just as easily translate to anyone who’s ever lost a parent at that age. Horn’s Oskar is an unusual choice for a protagonist, in that he’s a playing a very high-strung, neurotic child- who, dialogue suggests, may in fact be afflicted with Asperger's. He’s afraid of almost everything, manic to the point of being exhausting, and far too smart for a nine year-old. Imagine what THE BIG BANG THEORY’s Sheldon was like as a child, and you have a good idea of what Oskar’s like here.
Horn’s performance may divide audiences somewhat, as it’s not the more naturalistic acting most seem to prefer in child actors these days (like Asa Butterfield’s nuanced turn in HUGO). That said, it’s highly appropriate for the character, and I think Horn is actually quite excellent, although some might be put-off by it.
In a small, but important role, we have Tom Hanks, making a welcome return to form with this being his best film since 2007’s underrated CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. It’s a tiny part, but Hanks’ natural goodness, and everyman quality really makes you believe that he was an ideal father for a child as precocious as Oskar, and a series of phone messages that he leaves on the family answering machine from the World Trade Center are devastating. Sandra Bullock- fresh off winning an Oscar for THE BLIND SIDE (wildly overrated) is also very good as Oskar’s mom, who’s dealing with her own feelings of loss while trying to care for her son. Bullock does some very nice work indeed, although she feels mostly peripheral to the relationship that’s eventually formed between Oskar and Von Sydow’s “The Renter”.
One thing’s for sure, in a wordless role, Von Sydow seems like a lock for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, and he’s absolutely phenomenal in his best part in years. It’s a tough part, and probably his most wrenching since his work with Ingmar Bergman, but you can’t take your eyes off him, and he utterly dominates the screen every time he pops up. Between Von Sydow in this, and Jean Dujardin in THE ARTIST, could 2011 be the year silent acting makes a comeback?
Special attention also needs to be paid to Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, who show up as a kindly couple (with the last name “Black”) that Oskar encounters on his journey. Wright in particular has a big scene with Horn that really drives the whole cathartic, and universal nature of the film home, and proves once again how criminally under-appreciated he is as a performer.
Overall, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is a very emotionally satisfying film, and something that manages to be life-affirming despite dealing with one of the more tragic events of our generation. For those who are more closely touched by the tragedy, it may prove to be a somewhat wrenching experience, but I think it’s one that will be appreciated, and certainly deserves a lot of attention and acclaim.
|Extra Tidbit:||For a long time, James Gandolfini was listed as being in the film. If he had a role, it's been cut.|