“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” stars Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and young newcomer Thomas Horn. It’s the story of how the events of September 11th, 2001 affected one family, and one young boy in particular.
The film has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Max von Sydow. Yet it currently sits at 46% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.
That’s an incongruity that I couldn’t wrap my head around… So I entered the film not knowing what to expect.
Here’s my take.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” tells the story of a young boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father on 9/11. As you might imagine, that’s a severely traumatizing event. In the aftermath, he’s been experiencing some mild psychological and behavioral issues.
He’s a bit of a morbid and strange young child.
His father (played by Tom Hanks) was fond of teaching him lessons via scavenger hunts, treasure maps, etc. So, after his passing, when Oskar finds a hidden key which belonged to him, he becomes obsessed with finding the lock it opened. A single word – “Black” – was written on the small envelope the key was in. Convinced that it’s a person’s last name, young Oskar begins to track down all the people with the surname Black in the city of New York, searching for clues regarding the key.
My main issue with the film is its inconsistency. There were times when I felt for the boy very much, then others where he would do something head-scratchingly odd and it would wind up off-putting. There were times where the directorial flourishes were very interesting, then other times where they were a bit overbearing. Mostly though, there were times when the film elicited a genuine response from me… where it was an honestly moving film, and other times when I felt it was extremely manipulative.
In the end, the film won out for me. I have to admit I wound up liking it, and I can see why it got an Oscar nom (Oscar LOVES movies like this). But there’s two obvious hurdles audiences will have to face when it comes to making up their own minds, and this is probably why it’s faring so poorly with so many critics.
The first is the boy himself. Thomas Horn does a fine job playing him, I’m not going to say it’s because of him. But the character is written to be a traumatized boy, a kid who’s a neurotic mess… and so… he does… strange things. For example, he walks around shaking a tambourine on his journeys across the city. Pretty much all the time. He also has a ton of neurosis that pop up along the way. It’s intentional though. The boy is a very rational character. And the movie portrays him trying to make sense of an irrational event.
Unfortunately, I think he’s a character that’s very easy to dislike. I could easily imagine any number of people saying to each other after the movie… “That kid was so annoying”.
The second is 9/11. I knew going in that Tom Hanks’ character dies that day, but I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how heavily they would incorporate that day into the film. It could have been mentioned in passing, it could have been given a single scene, it could have been seriously interwoven into the film. Well, the answer turns out to be c) seriously interwoven into the film. This is a 9/11 movie, and as such, it’s going to draw criticism. I dont know if it will ever not be “too soon” or if it will ever seem as though films that explore that day won’t seem exploitive. It was an event that really left a lot of scars, and there’s going to be a lot of people who dont want the day rehashed. I can totally understand that point of view.
In keeping with the inconsistent nature of the film, there were times that neither of these elements bothered me, and then other times that they did. There were moments when I felt a great deal of sympathy for young Oskar, and then others when I wanted to drag him by the wrist to a child psychologist. There were times when I felt that the tragedy of 9/11 was handled well and the film’s treatment of it was very sensitive, and then others when I felt that it was a little insensitive to base a tear jerker on that day. It’s a memory that “jerks” enough tears on its own.
On the whole, though, I was able to get past the issues and see what the Academy sees in it. It wouldn’t have made my top ten had I actually seen it in 2011, but it is a well made film, with some great performances. Max von Sydow was excellent. As was Sandra Bullock, she landed a great role here. Tom Hanks was perfectly cast.
But the overall theme is probably what got this movie a Best Picture nod. This is the kind of human connectivity message that the Oscars love.
It’s a very emotional film, driven by events which are seared into our subconscious. It features an A list cast, and imparts a message about the commonalities we all share…
If you’re willing to watch a 9/11 movie and wind up not hating the kid, you should be fine. LOL