Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by:Eric Roth
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman
Released: February 23, 2012
Grade: B+

Let’s just say you go into a highly-regarded restaurant and trying something new off their menu.  It’s a dish that you’ve never tried before.  You take a bite and it tastes a little strange.  Deciding to give it a chance, you carry on and finish off the plate.  You’re still not quite sure what to make of it.  Is it an acquired taste?  Or is just no good?

Ok, I admit it’s not the greatest of metaphors but it’s the best way I can express my thoughts regarding Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, the story was placed in the gifted hands of director Stephen Daldry.  Has any filmmaker had a more impressive start to their career than Daldry?  He’s only made 3 previous films and all of them have earned him an Oscar nomination for best director – Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader.

Extremely Loud centres on a 9-year-old boy named Oskar Schell (Horn) who tragically lost his father (Hanks) in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.  It’s been tough for Oskar to deal with.  His dad has always been his best friend and mentor.  Oskar has always struggled to interact with other people and so his father would create fun quests to help him overcome his fears.  Their final adventure together saw Oskar questioning regulars in Central Park and trying to learn the location of New York City’s long-lost 6th borough.

Since his father’s death, Oskar has distanced himself from his mother (Bullock) and retreated back into his shell.  He’s set up a cubby-hole in his bedroom where he’s created a makeshift memorial.  On an answering machine, he has a series of phone messages left by his dad from the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower.  It may sound morbid but Oskar listens to the messages regularly.  It’s his way of dealing with the grief and clinging to his father’s memory.

Sifting through is father’s closet during a moment of curiosity, Oskar discovers a blue vase that contains a small yellow envelope.  It is labelled “Black” and contains a gold key.  What is it for?  What lock does it fit?  Turning the situation into one of his dad’s challenges, Oskar creates a new quest to find the answers to these questions.  He starts with the phonebook and decides to visit every person in New York with the surname of Black.

As I’ve alluded to above, I found this to be a peculiar movie.  Some parts drew me in whilst other, not-so-believable parts, pushed me away.  There’s been much criticism to the effect of “the kid is really annoying” but I found Oskar to be an intriguing character.  To the film’s credit, it takes a while to get to know him.  It’s as if we’re tagging along on his journey of self-discovery and learning a little more about him with each passing scene.  It’s an impressive performance from the endearing Thomas Horn in first ever acting role.

The film’s best moments see Oskar interacting with a mysterious man (von Sydow) who lives with his grandmother in an apartment building across the street.  He his known only as The Renter and for whatever reason, he does not speak.  He communicates by writing on a notepad that he carries with him at all times.  82-year-old Max von Sydow has picked up his second Academy Award nomination for the role and it’s well deserved.

My major concern with Extremely Loud is that it seems to be straddling the fence between reality and fantasy.  That ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem… but I can’t understand if it’s a deliberate decision.  The whole idea of an incredibly articulate 9-year-old boy roaming the streets of New York City and visiting every single person named Black is a stretch (at best).  My brows were furrowed on several occasions.  I can’t help but think the unrealistic nature of the situation lessens the story’s emotional force.

So what is the final verdict?  Is this indeed an acquired taste?  The fact that the film has been nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards (despite lukewarm reviews from most critics) highlights that it has struck a cord with some filmgoers.  I wouldn’t mind seeing it for a second time.