Extremely Loud and Incredible Close is a strange movie. Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours), for whom many think the phrase “Oscar bait” was invented, this glossy slice of tragedy porn is adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer that thrust the story of an autistic child’s scavenger hunt across the five boroughs of New York City into that of September 11, 2001. It never truly soars the way Daldry’s prior films have–especially Billy Elliot–but it’s far from the embarrassment that many have labelled it following its surprise Best Picture nomination by The Academy. If nothing else, it’s certainly better than War Horse!
A year after 9/11 killed his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks, Cast Away), Oskar Schell (a precocious Thomas Horn–his only other credit is a “kid’s week” episode of Jeopardy!) discovers a tiny envelope with a key inside, hidden within a blue vase at the back of his father’s closet. With only the word “Black” written on the envelope, Oskar sets out to find every single person with the name Black over the entirety of New York City’s mammoth concrete jungle, and discover what, if anything, the key fits and hopefully find one last message from his doting dad. Meanwhile, Oskar’s mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side), struggles to cope with her son’s constant disappearing acts, whilst hiding a secret that could perhaps bring her and her son closer together.
This movie is exquisitely made, as Daldry provides a typically classy craft effort. Alexandre Desplat’s musical score is simply sublime, and the production wonderfully utilises sights and landscapes from Manhattan, Brooklyn and more to help paint the gargantuan trip that Oskar takes on. Horn’s occasionally off-putting performance is nicely offset by the impressive Bullock and given delicately nuanced support from Viola Davis (The Help) and Max von Sydow (The Exorcist) as two strangers who help Oskar on his journey across the city.
Coming a little over ten years since the events of “the worst day” as Oskar continuously calls it, the power of the footage is still immense. Much of the film’s weight comes from the messages left on the answering machine by Thomas from that morning that are slowly revealed throughout the running time. However, reoccurring shots of falling bodies feel gratuitous. Many will cry, and it’s hard to begrudge that when there is so much history attached to the subject, but while Extremely Loud and Incredible Close fails to offer the gut punch of, say, United 93, its unique take on the material is commendable. Catharsis comes in many forms, and for Oskar it was discovering the secret to the key and following him on his mission is actually rather sweet. Sometimes too sickly sweet, but sweet nonetheless.
Extremely Loud & Incredible Close is released in Australia on February 23rd.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell,
John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright