Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011): Movie Review
In Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a 10-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) tries to hold on to the memory of his father, who died during 9/11, by searching New York City for a lock that fits a key in his father's personal effects. He likens this search to the time it takes for the sun’s light to reach the earth. If the sun exploded, we wouldn’t know it for eight full minutes. Oskar is trying to delay his eight minutes before he has to deal with the reality of his father’s blinking out of existence. It's a very melodramatic film, with two sets of sons who miss their fathers, a mother coping with the loss of her husband while trying to maintain a relationship with her son, and the overall backdrop of 9/11.
Throughout the film, we see a body floating downward with a blue sky in the background in the opening sequence, computer-printed images of someone jumping/falling, CGI effects to show the smoldering but still-standing towers, and news footage of the towers coming down. Using our nation’s most devastating recent tragedy brings everyone’s memories and emotions to the surface. Add to that the beloved Tom Hanks as a devoted husband and father who loses his life while trying to call his family to tell them he’s okay, a teary Sandra Bullock trying to understand her grieving son, and a confused boy desperate to hold onto his father even as he grows farther away from his mother, and you’ve got an instant tear-jerker. Could they have cast anyone better as the father? Everyone is going to be sad when Tom Hanks dies; it leaves a huge Tom Hanks–sized hole in our hearts.
The performances were good for the most part (Max von Sydow was nominated for an Academy Award) plot doesn’t really hold up to all that emotion, though. Oskar thinks the search for the missing lock was a puzzle his father left him to solve, but it’s really a wild goose chase (a thread that doesn’t even get resolved!). Thomas Schell had planned to start his son on a treasure hunt of sorts to help him learn to talk to people, but it’s not the search Oskar undertakes. Oskar is consistently represented as a precocious, brilliant kid (his Asperger’s test was inconclusive), able to build a complex filing system and plot out a grid to track down 216 addresses across New York. But the event that cracks the case for him is finding a phone number circled in red ink on the back of a newspaper article he’s had for over three months. He eventually finds a final message from his father, but it’s from the treasure hunt that Thomas never lived to begin. How did Oskar come across that without jumping through the hoops Thomas had intended to create?
Basically, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is great if you need a good cry, but it is not the intellectually challenging scavenger hunt I thought it would be based on the trailer.