Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, & Viola Davis
Plot: A nine-year-old amateur inventor, Francophile, and pacifist searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Genre: Drama
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor.
Runtime: 129min
Rating: PG13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.



The harshest of critics would see this film as extremely manipulative, and incredibly boring.  This is true to some extent, but the film is not as bad as it appears to be.  There are moments of promise, though they are often drowned in a kind of saccharine melodrama that does not seems to be a good match for its subject matter.

This latest Stephen Daldry film is in my opinion a slight improvement over The Reader (2008), the film that gave Kate Winslet her first Oscar.  But considering the array of talents at Daldry's disposal, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is still a disappointing affair.

Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name.  It centers on Oskar Schell (Horn), whose father (Hanks) died in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.

Oskar discovers a mysterious key in his father's wardrobe one day.  Inspired by his late father's curiosity, and zest for life, Oskar attempts to find the lock that matches the key, while his distant mother (Bullock) looks on in seeming despair as her son emotionally drifts away from her.

Daldry is a skilled filmmaker but a flawed storyteller, though the latter description is a tad unfair to him, because the screenplay by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, 1994; Munich, 2005) is not even half-decent.  The Oscar-winning Roth, whose last screenplay was for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), seems to be in a creative decline.

Like Fincher's film, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a meandering drama with little narrative drive.  The characters have quirky attributes, but are half-baked.  The film sweeps itself into some grand notion of melodramatic indulgence, manipulating our emotions along the way, but without genuine interest in doing so.

Horn, who makes his feature debut, gives a performance that is praiseworthy yet annoying at the same time.  Hanks and Bullock get minimal screen time, which is a waste considering that most viewers would catch the film because of them.  

These viewers will not be disappointed, however, by the interactions between Horn's character and that of Max von Sydow, who plays a mute old man called "The Renter".  Their interactions are the most engaging parts of the film, which until then sees Daldry flaunting his technical direction with the camera and sound design.

It is not easy to approach a subject matter as haunting as the memory of 9/11.  The prospect of looking at this memory through the eyes of a young, albeit intelligent boy is a tantalizing one.  But Daldry wastes the opportunity to create a film that goes deep into that haunting memory, a film that each of us could respond differently and cathartically.

Instead, by the manner in which the story is told, we are expected to feel the same way.  But to feel what?  And to feel for whom? Granted, the film has several strong, positive messages - about letting go of the past, to see the beauty of the present, and to face the future with hope - but its flawed execution still leaves much to be desired.

Verdict: Daldry milks all the emotions from an already over-indulgent screenplay without being genuinely effective.

GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)

Click here to go back to Central Station.


Popular Posts