In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Oskar Shell is a precocious boy who lost his father in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. But to find the lock to a discovered key his father left behind, Oskar must overcome his anxieties about trains, planes, buses, bridges, loud noises, tall buildings and strangers.
Thomas Horn stars as Oskar, the boy compelled to travel all over New York City to salvage some connection to his dead father, played by Tom Hanks, while growing distant from his mother, played by Sandra Bullock, and sometimes in the company of an odd, silent older man, played wonderfully by Max von Sydow.
This is a movie I wouldn’t call stellar because I found it hard to identify with Oskar and his obsessive compulsive, sometimes mouthy, hold on the world. Nonetheless, screenwriter Eric Roth and director Stephen Daldry weaved a story I have not heard before, was not necessarily expecting and was full of human stories and surprises. Roth and Daldry’s work was based on Jonathan Safron Foer’s 2005 novel of the same name.
Much like the reconnaissance expeditions father Thomas Schell often designed for son Oskar, this film takes the viewer on a journey through one boy’s emotional journey, also his mother’s, grandmother’s and grandfather’s, as well as through the lives of dozens of New Yorkers and the boroughs of New York with small dashes of history, geology, mathematics and mystery.
Of course, one can imagine that Oskar’s key will lead him nowhere or to an unexciting conclusion. After all, many of us have mystery keys lying around. But Oskar’s resolution is complicatedly satisfying, showing in a not too saccharine way that every person is connected, but distant and that, while nothing makes sense, it all sort of does.
The film is rated PG-13 for “emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language,” which is, besides the rating, an integral part of Oskar’s life experience. 9/11 was a traumatic event around the world and, especially, for US citizens. Still, I cannot imagine how the images, sounds and losses that day affected children in NYC – and who had loved ones killed in the attacks. This film goes a long way toward showing the emotional and practical impacts on one (fictional) child in particular.
The weakness of the film, unfortunately, is Oskar. Roth and Daldry created a character hard to identify with. His grief and behavior is absolutely understandable, but they took few opportunities to soften his rough edges. For example, Oskar treats the doorman, played by John Goodman, terribly, often calling him names. This extra touch was totally unnecessary, but repeated several times throughout the 129 min. movie.
The redeeming parts of the film are the exemplar of fatherhood that Tom Hanks played, the complexity of making an emotional journey manifest in real journeys and the ending, which was not too tidy, but satisfying enough.
Reviewers are not being kind to this film. It has a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes (a 68% from viewers) and hasn’t reached $1 million gross.
I give this film 3-4 stars based on this scale:
1 – Just awful
2 – Sort of not good
3 – Neutral
4 – Many good qualities
5 – Stellar