Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 modernist novel of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes a look at a broken American family living in post-9/11 New York City. “Too soon” seems to be a non sequitur here, as the film tags itself as being not about 9/11 but about everyday afterwards. And yet director, Stephen Daldry, who is no stranger to “big ideas,” has written an emotional check his movie can’t cash.
One year after “The Worst Day” and young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is still reeling from his father, Thomas’ (Tom Hanks) death. Unable to cope and growing further estranged from his living mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), Oskar spends his days hiding in a storage cabinet and pondering over a shrine he’s built for his beloved dad. While exploring Thomas’ closet, which has remained untouched since his death in the Twin Towers, Oskar finds a mysterious key in a small envelope labeled “Black,” which prompts him to go on one last scavenger hunt (which Oskar and his dad were so fond of doing). Oskar’s journey to track down everyone named “Black” leads him through all five boroughs of New York City and introduces him to a wide variety of nearly five hundred characters.
But what’s astonishing and so disingenuous about Extremely Loud… is Oskar himself. He is selfish and hurtful to those around him, mainly his mother, and seems to lack any sense of personal boundaries. Sure, how precocious of Oskar to take on such a daunting task, to find the lock for his father’s mystery key. But when he throws a fit or starts to bubble over with anxiety, the performance is so affected and unwarranted, especially given how mature we’re led to believe he is, that the audience begins to feel cheated out of their sniffles and sobs.
It’s hard to attach yourself to Oskar who – aside from being privileged (raised in the Upper West Side), intelligent, and brought up by loving parents – is only aware of his own personal tragedy. When Oskar goes to meet the first person on his list of “Blacks,” she is in the middle of a domestic dispute, and yet Oskar keeps rattling on about himself. When he asks “the renter” – a mute who’s taken a room in his grandmother’s apartment – – why he doesn’t speak, it’s because he wants a reason to unload his problems onto another unsuspecting stranger. In any other situation, an audience would find it difficult to side with such a character, but because Extremely Loud… has 9/11 to fall back on we feel guilty not empathizing with Oskar.
Because Oskar dominates Extremely Loud… so completely, it’s rare that the other characters get any of their own time to shine. Bullock’s Linda is virtually nonexistent until the end when it’s conveniently to reveal something that has little justification based on what we have actually been shown. Linda is given a brief moment in the film where she’s allowed to express herself, and when she does, much to Bullock’s credit, the breakthrough is authentic. Tom Hanks, of course, is his impeccably charming self. Oskar’s idealization of his father, seen through flashbacks, provides an opportune role for Hanks, who is known for his ability to portray faultless characters. Still this doesn’t distract from the fact that Thomas is an impossibly good parent. Max von Sydow as the mute renter is notably expressive, contorting his brow or shrugging his shoulder, despite the lack of dialogue. In truth, the silent Sydow is a welcome relief from Oskar’s constant prattling.
Already, Oscar buzz is generating around Extremely Loud… which is more predictable than appropriate, as the film seems fashioned for a nomination. To say that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is intensely emotional is an understatement. This movie is an assault on your sentimentality, it holds a gun to your head and demands that you cry. Even before the movie starts we’re subjected to a battery of previews for movies inspired by true events or the triumph of the human spirit. It seems the whole experience is meant to create a Thunderdome of sympathetic sighs and clucking tongues, almost as if it was geared to keep the audience on the verge of a choked-up breakdown.