Movie Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I suspect this film will be quite polarizing for audiences, but not for the reasons you may think. Though Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes place in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, it is essentially devoid of controversy or political overtones. The tragedy serves as a catalyst for the story of one boy’s strange and hopeful odyssey through the city of New York while he searches for a clue that he believes his father left for him before he perished in one of the twin towers.
In order to enjoy the movie you have to be able to empathize with or at least tolerate the film’s young protagonist Oskar (Thomas Horn), an extremely unconventional hero who makes this movie a difficult sell. If you find him irritating (which I can completely understand), you will absolutely loathe the film. That’s a real pity, because Horn is amazing as a grieving, anti-social nine year old who has to cope with losing the most important person in his life. His mom (Sandra Bullock) is well meaning, but virtually helpless as she is crippled by grief herself. Oskar throws some misguided resentment and blame on her, further driving a wedge between them.
Through a series of flashbacks we see what a wonderful dad (played by Tom Hanks) Oskar had. He cultivates his son’s freakish intelligence with elaborate treasure hunts and secret missions that require intricate mapping and organizational skills. Dear old dad plants all the clues in advance, and each mission infuses Oskar with confidence. This is also dad’s way of getting Oskar (who may have Asperger’s) to interact with people, something he is reluctant and possibly unable to do on his own. Oskar was almost finished with one of these puzzles when his father was killed on 9/11.
What many will find off-putting about Oskar is his seeming lack of emotion, particularly following his father’s death. He is reclusive and downright cruel to his mother sometimes, and he is so matter of fact that it comes across as creepy as times. If Oskar really does have Asperger’s, these emotional detachments would fall under normal behavior for someone with the condition. It also could just be his way of coping with the trauma and loss from “the worst day”, as Oskar chooses to call 9/11. At any rate, I thought Horn was brilliant, particularly in a frantic scene in which he recants everything that has happened to him over the last year in quick bursts of exposition. The dialogue made my head swim; I can’t imagine how the young actor nailed it.
Oskar’s journeys through the streets of New York bring him into contact with a myriad of helpful people, including a mysterious mute (played by Max Von Sydow), a kindly woman (Viola Davis) and her husband (Jeffrey Wright) who all play heavily into the outcome of Oskar’s story. Naturally he touches everyone he meets with his sad tale. The cynic in me was rolling my eyes at all the coincidences and kindness swirling around the culmination of the movie, but it is a sweet tale. Oskar explains that his obsession to finish the project is his way of extending his last moments with his dad, an understandable sentiment.
Hanks and Bullock are the co-stars here, and actually don’t have much screen time compared to Horn, who appears in almost every scene. You can hate the character, but don’t hate the actor. I think he performs exactly as he was supposed to. Part of Oskar’s bizarre behavior is a direct result of shouldering the burden of being the sole family member who heard dad’s messages on the answering machine on “the worst day.” He hides the tape from his mother to save her the anquish.
Incidentally, this was the first fictional movie I have seen with 9/11 in it. The scenes are brief, but still packed an emotional wallop. I don’t think that director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) exploited the tragedy. If there is any manipulation to be found, it is simply in the story of a young boy losing his father, his manner of death simply complicates things further. Burying an empty casket doesn’t give Oskar closure, and his resolution of grief is a long time coming.