A year after his father is killed in the 9/11 attacks, Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn
) finds a mysterious key in his belongings and goes on a quest all over New York City to find the lock that the key fits and to rediscover the connection to his father.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is an adaptation of a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer
, most famous for writing 2002s Everything is Illuminated
, which also became a movie starring Elijah Wood
. For only his second novel, Safran Foer has attracted an incredible roster of talent – not only starring names like Tom Hanks
and Sandra Bullock
but also Oscar nominated director Stephen Daldry
and Oscar winning scribe Eric Roth
– who won 1995 for Forrest Gump
The story itself is focussed on a strange young boy and his increasingly fraught attempts to deal with the loss of his father by conjuring a complex mystery and investigation. Its emotional subject matter and, while the use of the 9/11 disaster might be somewhat questionable for what is basically a family friendly drama, it provides for a powerful backdrop, particularly in light the revelations of the final scenes.
The film itself mostly follows the investigation, a vestige of the games Oskar and his father used to play as a way to force the pathologically shy child to interact with others. Rather neatly, the posthumous game also has the same effect, on an even wider scale and also forces Oskar to eventually reconnect with his psychologically bruised mother (Bullock
). There’s also help on hand from a mysterious, mute, elderly gentleman who lodges with Oskar’s grandmother.
It’s a cleverly crafted story but Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is never that engaging. Mostly it’s down to the fact that we never really believe Oskar’s quest is real. We don’t, for a second, imagine that his father left some complex mystery after his death and that the boy is really going to find out anything at the end. It makes the ensuing thrills rather limited, even as our hero leans about himself and about the complex lives of strangers in PG-13 friendly life lessons.
It doesn’t help that Oskar is a very difficult character to like. Clearly intelligent, he’s also frequently obnoxious or downright cruel, and that’s not when he’s shouting and bashing a tambourine like one demented. For what it’s worth, young Thomas Horn
is probably playing the role as intended but his hermetic view on the world soon becomes suffocating, while no other character is given any room to breathe.
is a big presence in the film and he’s amiable enough, though there’s a touch of condescension to his interactions with his son and there’s a touch of an accent which grates. Bullock
is better as a mother forced to keep some distance from her grieving son but she’s given too little screen time and is generally the films whipping boy.Von Sydow
is fantastic as always, and his character – with yes and no tattooed on alternate hands – is the most obviously fantastical in the picture, which makes his scenes with Horn
all the more enjoyable. Let’s assume the Oscar nod is for lifetime achievements though.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is a film that will likely divide audiences – some will find it a powerful story of a broken hearted child trying desperately to cling to the magical relationship he shared with his father while others will want to give said child a smack around the back of the head. For my part, I’m somewhere in between – the plotting is clever and the finale fairly saws at the heartstrings but the intricacies often feel forced and formulaic.