Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) – I would not go quite as far as to call this one of the worst films of 2011 as some people have (though there a certain kneejerk reaction to some of the film’s more objectionable aspects that makes me want to). I will go so far as to say that its recent nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture points out exactly why the Oscar should never be taken all that seriously. First of all the film is one that is at best “okay” but it also goes down a path that crosses over into pseudo-offensive territory. I tend to be a pretty easy-going guy when it comes to what kind of films people can and can’t make. In fact I believe that there is next to no subject that falls into the latter category. This however is a film that while some CAN make, they really SHOULDN’T have.

The movie is about a young kid named Oskar (inexperienced actor and Jeopardy! Kids Week winner Thomas Horn) who may have Asperger’s or some comparable disorder (he says tests were inconclusive on the matter). His father Thomas (Tom Hanks) was the only one who really knew how to deal with him. He would send him out on the type of investigative reconnaissance expeditions that satisfied Oskar’s endlessly curious intellect while at the same time forcing him to talk to people, something he has difficulty doing. Thomas is essentially designing these expeditions to help young Oskar overcome the hardships he will face in his life due to the way he is. Oskar’s life is turned upside down when Thomas is killed on September 11, 2001 during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Now, I would like to point out emphatically that it is NOT too early for a movie about 9/11. In fact six years ago, Paul Greengrass made the excellent United 93 and Oliver Stone made the not-excellent-but-still-quite-moving World Trade Center. Of course the difference is that these movies were ABOUT 9/11. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is NOT about 9/11. It is about a kid trying to solve one last mystery and come to terms with his father’s death. 9/11 is just scenery. It’s a background event. It is like the way that Pearl Harbor is a romance and the Japanese attack just serves as a plot function. Of course Pearl Harbor, for all its awfulness as a movie, had the decency to come out 60 years after the attack. Historical fiction can get away with that type of thing. When Titanic came out 85 years after the sinking of the titular ship, there weren’t a lot of people still suffering from that raw wound. The terrorist attacks were only 11 years ago. If you are an adult you almost certainly remember them. You have a prepackaged set of emotions concerning them. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is trying to tap into that prepackaged set of emotions rather than build up emotional resonance of its own. It wants to make you cry without earning it. It works too. Try keeping a dry eye as Oskar watched the tower collapse knowing full well his father is in there. Even during a movie I was seriously disliking I couldn’t keep a dry eye. But it was a cheat; it wasn’t earned.

The main plot involves Oskar finding a key that Thomas was keeping, with only the name Black written on an envelope. Oskar goes on an expedition through New York City to find the lock that the key fits. This is the part of the movie that could have been good with some different choices. Character actors like Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright show up, seemingly just to remind you how much better they are in other superior movies. Max von Sydow has an Oscar-nominated role as a mute who rents a room from Oskar’s grandmother. Actually not being saddled with the film’s dialogue allows von Sydow to give probably the best performance in the film (the nomination’s still overkill). The “revelation” of who his character is is quite obvious from very early on, even though the film treats it like some kind of twist. Sandra Bullock spends 90% of the film in a thankless role as Oskar’s mother, but towards the end she has one of the best scenes in the film that casts the rest of her role in a different light. It’s actually one of the signs that this could have been a better movie, if handled differently. I never really want to beat up on a child actor (though it doesn’t stop me from doing so) but Horn annoyed me in this movie. It’s hard to blame him really. It’s a difficult line to walk playing someone socially inept but still likable to the audience. The line is not walked well here. Curiosity may drive you to see Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close but if it doesn’t, I would recommend a rental. It is sort of fascinating to watch the wasted opportunities and the mishandling of a national tragedy, but all in all there are so many better movies you could check out instead.

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Comments
One Response to “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)”
  1. CMrok93 says:

    More irritating than touching, healing or any of the positive things one would guess such a story and cast would produce. This was just a totally manipulative film that tries so hard to be emotional that it almost strains itself and its leading “actor”, Thomas Horn who is probably one of the most annoying kids I have seen on-screen in awhile. Good review.

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