If there is one movie this year that should be a guaranteed tearjerker, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” should be it. It has all the elements to make eyes water—a trailer that hits all the right emotional notes, a sad-eyed child protagonist, a dead father and to top it all off, 9/11. Whether the water works are turned on or off will likely only depend on whether you are made of stone or not.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, the movie explores the horror of 9/11 through the eyes of a gifted ten-year-old named Oskar (Thomas Horn). His father (Tom Hanks) was killed in the attack, leaving behind Oskar, his mother (Sandra Bullock) and grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) who lives in the brownstone next door. A year after the “worst day” Oskar finds a blue vase containing an envelope simply marked “Black” and a key. Thinking the key must unlock something special—a message from his father perhaps—he embarks on a well organized, if somewhat daunting mission to find out what the key opens.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a 9/11 movie that isn’t about ideology but the human cost of ideology. There’s no talk of Osama Bin laden or Al Quaida, instead it is about a young boy’s search to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. His search isn’t for answers as to why 9/11 happened, but rather to keep a connection to his father alive.
Horn does much of the heavy lifting here, carrying the movie while veterans Hanks, Bullock and Max Von Sydow watch from afar. In most scenes he is supremely effective, his doe eyes conveying the pain, hurt and confusion that comes along with great loss.
Only occasionally does he fall into precious kid actor territory. It’s a tough character, an old-beyond-his-years boy, who may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s smart but awkward and Horn usually finds the balance, but every now and again the character becomes all quirk. Are we meant to believe Oskar would have a WWII gas mask on him in preparation for his first subway ride? In moments like that we’re taken out of the story as Oskar becomes a more a vessel for some of director’s Stephen Daltry’s quirky character ideas.
His strongest scenes are the most emotional. A long conversation late in the movie with his mom is a show-stopper. His reaction when he figures out why his father has left so many phone messages on 9/11 is heartfelt and tragic. Like asking to kiss the first woman he goes to see on his journey. The movie gets it right in those tender moments.
Hanks is barely in the movie, seemingly cast because of the goodwill he naturally inspires in audiences. The film needs a lovable dad who is largely absent through the story and Hanks fits the bill.
Bullock is given more to do and her every-woman appeal brings great empathy to the mother’s character. Von Sydow is brilliant in a character whose presence is completely unnecessary to the success of the film. He doesn’t forward the action or add much overall, but he’s such a joy to watch I’m really glad he’s there.
On a tear-jerker scale of one to ten this young boy’s discovery that his connection with his dead father will be a metaphysical one rather than a physical one, is a seven. A bit over long, with a drawn out ending, but a few moments guaranteed to trigger the water works.