Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I have never really been a fan of movies set against the backdrop of 9/11.  Well, I guess it is not so much that I am not a fan, but more that I have chosen to avoid such movies (i.e. United 93, World Trade Center, Reign Over Me).  I know people who were lost in the tragedy and that is most definitely a contributing factor to my reluctance.  However, I think the driving force behind my reasoning is that while I love movies, I don’t take them too seriously.  I don’t look to movies to learn about the world or to be educated – not even documentaries because the finished product is always the filmmaker’s take on a given subject matter – especially in this day and age when subjective reporting is a lost art.  But I digress.  For me, movies are about escapism and as a member of my own generation, nothing about 9/11 can ever offer a temporary escape.

So for the first half hour I did not particularly care for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and though that feeling never completely went away, I did become interested in seeing the protagonist Oskar Schell – played by Thomas Horn – find some closure to the task at hand and to an immensely painful chapter in his life.  The plot centers on this task of finding a key left behind by Oskar’s father played by Tom Hanks, who passed away in the 9/11 tragedy.  Discovering the mystery behind the innocuous key becomes a journey of emotional turmoil and learning for a young boy struggling with the question, “why?”

What worked best for me was the presence of Tom Hanks’ Schell even when he was just a voice on an answering machine or not even onscreen at all.  I am not a huge Hanks fan – I actually think that in his prime he was greatly overrated – but he does great work and in limited screen time makes his presence felt throughout the film.  He and veteran actor Max von Sydow – as the Renter – stretch their acting chops and offset the over-the-top histrionics of Thomas Horn.

What didn’t work for me was the execution of the plot.  His journey to encounter everyone in the five boroughs named Black is overwrought and the direction by Stephen Daldry falls into the trap of indulging the excess.  There are too many moving pieces, too many hidden lessons, and too many secrets that ultimately fail to deliver with the big reveal.  And while Sandra Bullock, Jeffrey Wright, and Viola Davis are all accomplished veteran actors, they fail to rescue the movie from the morass of neurotic emo-sentimentality that poor writing depicts as the cure to post 9/11 blues.

There are things that occur in this movie that make it worthwhile, but it is in no way a great product as some have dubbed it.  It’s a mid-queue Netflix rental at best that you should not watch when you are having a particularly good day, because no matter the outcome of the movie, the subject matter will leave you in a somber state. 

Standout Performance:  Tom Hanks.  It is probably his best performance in years.


  1. This was a great review! I’ve watched all the 9/11 movies, like Flight 93 and World Trade Center. This offers me a way to connect with all that were in someway involved with that tragic day. My co-worker from Dish suggested I watch Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is a real tear jerker. I don’t know anyone who was involved, so this offers me a way to connect on a different level. I’m able to stream these movies on my iPad, using my Dish Online feature. This is a great way to view thousands of movies and TV shows. I find this useful when I’m looking for hard to find movies and something fresh.