Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Film #10: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a film with sensitive subject matter. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) lives in New York City and very possibly has Asperger Syndrome. It’s not debilitating or anything, but he does have some trouble in social situations and he has a strong proclivity for logic and order. It’s hard for him when something happens that doesn’t make sense. And when his dad (Tom Hanks), the only one who seems to really “get” him, is killed in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, Oskar has a hard time coming to terms with it. A year after “the worst day”, Oskar finds a key hidden inside a vase in his father’s closet. Convinced that this is the start of an elaborate game set up by his dad, and hoping that by solving it things will make more sense, Oskar sets out to contact 417 people with the surname “Black” scattered around New York City.

I had a difficult time enjoying myself for the first part of this film. Although I found the story – a kid with some personal issues but intelligent as all hell setting out on a quixotic mission to find meaning in the face of tragedy – pretty neat, it had to take some pretty preposterous turns to get there. I was rolling my eyes at the way he fought himself into Viola Davis’ house, the first ‘Black’ he encounters, and at the answering machine tape swap that was important to the story but seemed entirely unlikely. Worst of all, the tone was dreary for far too long. I understand that when you have a movie with a critical moment hinged upon 9/11, it’s not going to be the cheeriest of films, but there was an oppressive angst to the entire first act. For the longest time, Sandra Bullock (as Oskar’s mom) got to play only a single note: Distressed mother. And there’s a ton of weight on Thomas Horn’s shoulder, onscreen for every scene, with narration to boot. I worried early on, when he started listing the things that made him nervous ever since “the worst day”, culminating in his broken voice shrieking each word. It was all very unpleasant, to say the least.

But then something amazing happens, something I rarely see in movies that start off bad: It pulled itself together. I’m going to give a lot of credit to Max Von Sydow, nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for a role that seriously breathes life into the film. Though his mysterious role is easy to decode early on, it doesn’t make his silent ‘Renter’ character, with “yes” written on one hand and “no” on the other, any less fascinating. I previously read Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, and it seems like he has a knack for writing interesting old men with troubled pasts. It’s good that they found such a seasoned and talented actor for the part. The Renter brings back the playful wit absent from the film since Hanks’ departure, and gives Horn a steady force to bounce his acting off of. The scene when Oskar breaks down and tells the Renter what he’s been doing is one of the high points of the film, and totally redeems Horn for the aforementioned yelly list scene.

From that point on, the movie is an enjoyable watch. Horn’s mission culminates in another excellent scene, this time with Jeffrey Wright, where the two characters, despite their generational gaps, share in their despair over the way their fathers left them. It’s a quiet and somber scene, and though it may not be the end to his search that Oskar was hoping for, it’s definitely an end to the movie that makes it all worth it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at first seems like it’s going to be the sappy and pretentious Oscar-bait you may be fearing, but after Max Von Sydow’s entrance, the film is able to find a perfect mixture of emotion and fun, and wraps itself up beautifully.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • I also appreciate the part of the film that was post-Jeffrey Wright, with Sandra Bullock’s character getting some redemption. It may have taken a little away from Oskar’s quest for me, but it put much more into her character.
  • There were a couple of really cool shots of grandeur showing the city of New York. The first was on the bridge right after Horn squawked out the list of things that upset him, another was when he was first setting out on his journey through the city.
  • Props to Alexandre Desplat for yet another fine score. The music was perfect, hitting every note it needed to, from playful to melancholy.
  • Oh yeah, John Goodman was in there. Good times watching him cuss at little kids. Good times.
  • It always pisses me off when well-known adult actors get top billing instead of newcomer child actors, even when the latter is onscreen a thousand times more than the former.

Every year around January/February I realize I haven’t seen most of the Oscar-nominated films, and I make a scramble to see them all so the awards show can be more satisfying. I’ve got a little over three weeks to catch 6-15 movies (depending on how many categories I want to be prepared for). We’ll see what happens.

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One response

  1. Pingback: The Tree of Life (2011) « The Analytic Critic

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