Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

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I don’t understand all the criticism toward Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Yes, it takes place directly after 9/11, what young Oskar calls “the worst day,” but the movie is about much more than that specific tragedy in our history. It’s about how people cope with tragedy in general, how to deal with loss and grief — and yes, in this example, how to view a city after such devastation. In that, Daldry succeeds in crafting an original portrait of New York City. The style is bravely quirky, but it doesn’t serve as a hindrance to the very human story at its center. Instead, it wonderfully matches the quirkiness of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 bestselling novel upon which the movie is based. The biggest gamble was deciding who to cast as the precocious young boy, Oskar Schell. It’s an unusual role that must carry the whole movie, and thankfully Thomas Horn absolutely does the job. The 14-year-old newcomer is a powerhouse, getting inside the whirling head of Oskar with ease. He’s perhaps autistic, could have Asperger’s syndrome, but he’s crazy intelligent. He’s inspired by his inventive father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), who fuels his son’s imagination with what they call reconnaissance expeditions urging him out of his comfort zone. The remarkable young actor dominates every scene showing Oskar as insufferable, erratic, eccentric and tiresome, spouting off crazed rants. After his father is killed in 9/11, Oskar comes across a key in his untouched closet and immediately becomes obsessed with it. He believes his father left the key for him so he could find the lock that it opens. The key came in an envelope with the name “Black” scribbled on it, and so Oskar concocts his own expedition to journey all across the city finding every person with that last name. While Oskar goes out every day on his venture, there’s a rift between him and his mother (Sandra Bullock) because it’s clear who he was closer with. This makes it increasingly difficult for his mother, and the explosive fights between them are gut-wrenching. Oskar soon makes a friend, a mysterious old man known as the Renter (Max von Sydow). He has moved in with Oskar’s grandmother, cannot or will not speak and has agreed to help Oskar find the lock. He is a reassuring companion for Oskar much like his father was. Von Sydow is brilliant even while wordless with soulful gazes and sly gestures that bring a wealth of meaning. If Oskar’s journey sounds preposterous, that’s because it probably is. In that sense it plays a bit like a fairy tale, and maybe that’s not the whimsical approach people want to the 9/11 tragedy. For me, it wins by wearing symbolism on its sleeve finding the key to unlocking the answer as to why anything cruel or irrational happens in the world. Best of all, among all the heartbreaking and intimate exchanges, it ends on an uplifting spirit, one of hope and rejuvenation. That’s a fine message for more than a decade later.
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Tags: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, movie review, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks