Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel by acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer, centres on Oskar Schell, a young boy whose father, played by Tom Hanks, is killed during the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. Oskar (Thomas Horn) is an only child and though tested for Asperger’s Syndrome, ‘the results were inconclusive.’
We meet the boy a year after his father’s death as he comes across a key to his old man’s closet. Loving to solve puzzles and going on the recognisant exploration missions his father sets him, Oskar decides that this key is a final puzzle his father has left him to solve. Continuing to ignore his mother (Sandra Bullock) and after minute planning, Oskar sets out every weekend to find the lock that will fit this one key. As has been the intention of his father, Oskar now has to meet an unlikely bunch of people who engage him in the world outside of his own. The narrative sheds light on the structure of his mind as he struggles to have the world around him fit into his version of order.
However, Oskar is repeatedly frustrated because people do not fit easily into the 6 minute time frame he has allowed for each meeting and he’s surrounded by everything that he finds frightening – basically anything that is extremely loud and gets too close.
Thomas Horn gives an astonishing performance as Oskar and the film is shown from his point of view with memories of his ideal and idealised father. His mother, played by Sandra Bullock, is disappointingly left on the sidelines for most of the story as Oskar stalks around New York, all edgy anger and tambourine-playing neurois. The various New Yorkers that he meets have their own stories, some of which are looked at with more depth than others.
The film is beautifully shot by Chris Menges and as director Stephen Daldry showed with Billy Elliot, he knows how to find and generate a superb, non-sentimental performance from a talented child actor. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, however, is an unapologetically tear-jerking, sentimental film.
Centering itself around the events of 9/11, a national open wound for New York and the USA as a whole, it wants us to consider loss and grief on a large and more personal scale. The most remarkable of fathers, Thomas Schell (Hanks), has been lost to his precocious but troubled son who might now, without his influence, be forever trapped within his condition. The most perfect of American ideals might well have died with Schell and this is the message being implied by the film.
There is still hope for Oskar in the form of his grandmother and the mysterious man referred to only as The Renter, who stays with his grandmother. The Renter (Max von Sydow) does not speak and communicates through the thousands of notepads that surround him along with two very convenient tattoos on his hands. The film is at its strongest when Oskar and The Renter team up to look for the missing key. Oskar’s lack of human sympathy has him wanting to rush the frail Renter uncompromisingly through the city. The quiet and kind considered way that The Renter interacts with the boy keeps the attention of the audience in a more realistic and gives the audience a break from the more extreme levels of sentiment found within the film.
The film does possess flashes of brilliance, especially in the performances of Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow, yet it’s just too unrelenting in its manipulative sentiment. The film also runs a good 10 – 15 minutes too long. Had the script curtailed the amount of people visited by Oskar, because, after three of these, we get the point being made, it might have been a more subtle film which, through Oskar, it had the opportunity of being. Instead it feels like our own personal grief at the loss of a parent or someone close has almost been abused for the sake of exerting an Oscar worthy nod for the film. Sandra Bullock’s character has been tragically under used during the film with the director rushing to fill in her story by the end. This is unlikely to win the Best Film at the Oscar’s this year. However, if Thomas Horn continues to produce performances of such a high level, he will be one to watch in the future.
UK Release Date: 17th February