Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer‘ book, is a New York story, where its protagonist Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) goes around the city to find a lock that fits a key that he’s stumbled upon. Hoping that the said key will help his get closed to his deceased father Thomas (Tom Hanks), he missions through different parts of the city, every place filled with a different cinematic context. This is where Dean threatened to jump off a bridge, the neighborhood where Alike spent her adolescence or where Joe – a Woody Allen substitute – asked for donations for an Israeli state.
New York’s probably unique this way and just like the city, Stephen Daldry‘s film explores many new stories that will connect with Oskar’s. He finds the key inside an envelope labeled ‘Black’ inside a broken vase, convincing him that ‘Black’ is a surname of a New Yorker who can reconnect him to his father’s spirit or tell him something about his father that his young self couldn’t possibly know. The first of many stories involves Abby Black, played by Viola Davis who generously adds nuance to the few scenes she’s in – there’s a part of me who would rather her win an Oscar here than in The Help.
I believe that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tries to and admittedly unfairly posit itself as a movie beyond criticism because I treat it not as a movie but as a person. Or more clearly, as I would if I meet Oskar, the character manifesting the story’s values and world view. Just like the movie, he’s annoying, he rambles too much, has too many neurotic and post-traumatic quirks and can’t finish a thought. But he’s also an independent child who journeys within New York on foot which is plausible and the kid is awesome, he has Asperger’s and his father died on 9/11. Where’s your snark now?
In fairness there are many moments within the movie that could be deal breakers. The first line that Oskar says is statistically inaccurate and I hate ‘wrong’ facts in movies. The montage where he talks about the things he hates. The scenes where he does and shows the injuries he inflicts on himself. The last shot. Some of the one-sided exchanges between him and a renter (Max von Sydow) are the worst, first because he and the movie find a human target for his hammering shock and awe. Speaking of which I will also admit that the movie uses the Babe Ruth method, presenting a tear jerking scene in case the last one didn’t make you cry.
But if only a few of the emotions aren’t earned, many of the great images are. Oskar running across a red brick wall in a push and pull struggle with the renter. The renter having yes or no tattooed on either palm. The cool glass walls where Oskar meets Abby’s husband William (Jeffrey Wright). I can pretend to know something within those images that help present an arc within the movie. Although there is something about the brightness of these moments that makes the movie feel like a sobering letter to a healing city. As if an invisible yet ever so present sun is guarding this child, making this unlikely gritty place the setting of a fairy tale, not in a pejorative but in a refreshing sense.
Another character guiding Oskar is his mother Linda played by divisive Sandra Bullock, their relationship frayed because of his closeness to Thomas even after his death, seeing each other as the family’s third wheel. She’s fortunate because of the great material involving her character, in an already personalized movie her scenes show the familial and micro side. These scenes wouldn’t work and be the movie’s best without her talents. Daldry, collaborating with screenwriter Eric Roth, produce a hit-and-miss movie when it comes to its tone. But its pacing softens these thousand shocks, making it Daldry’s most visceral and rewarding. Just before it loses our emotional connection, it boomerangs it back to us again. 3/5.
- Marshall Fine: Movie review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (huffingtonpost.com)