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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 25, 2011 12:02 PM
12 Comments
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I doubt that anyone who lived through the events of September 11, 2001 could remain completely unmoved by the story of how one boy deals with the death of his father, who was trapped in one of the World Trade Center towers that morning. There are many painful, poignant, and highly-fraught moments in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, simply because they remind us of what so many of us experienced that day, even from afar. But this drama, under the skillful direction of Stephen Daldry, aims to do more than merely arouse our latent emotions.
 

The movie asks us to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 by entering the insular world of a verbose 11-year-old boy named Oskar, played by newcomer Thomas Horn.How you respond to the film will depend almost entirely on how you react to Oskar, who could be described as engagingly eccentric or extremely annoying. He and his father (Tom Hanks) had a special relationship—the idealized kind one only encounters in movies—in which the fun-loving, imaginative dad created ambitious New York City adventures for his son. Oskar is super-smart but also wildly phobic: he has trouble talking to people and refuses to use public transportation, just for starters. His accidental discovery of a key, hidden in his father’s closet, sends him on the most formidable, and arduous, expedition of his life, to find its possible owner and literally unlock its secret.
 
The boy is desperately trying to understand the irrationality of his father’s death—and to deal with an overpowering feeling of guilt over his behavior that fateful morning. But the cure for Oskar’s severe case of shell-shock, in Eric Roth’s adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, seems artificial and contrived to me. It’s a metaphoric construct that, in another context, would be viewed as whimsical. I just didn’t buy into it.
 

At the same time, I can’t deny the effectiveness of some individual scenes. Viola Davis, as the first person Oskar meets on his odyssey, can break your heart with just one look. Max von Sydow creates an appealing, grandfatherly character without speaking a word of dialogue. My feelings about young Thomas Horn veered from empathy—in some of the more emotionally-wrought scenes—to exasperation. And much as I like Tom Hanks, I never believed his character; he’s about as real as Ward Cleaver.
 
I’m sure some viewers will connect with this film; I would never begrudge anyone’s response to a subject that is so personal. We could all use a movie that offers a cathartic means of processing the unreality we witnessed a decade ago. For me, this isn’t it.
 

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12 Comments

  • EDS | February 18, 2012 5:34 PMReply

    This movie is a steaming turd and that child actor is as atrocious as the musical score and "direction" (esp the opening scene- UGH!)

  • Hercules BR | February 15, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    Is this a BOMB , * , ** , *** or **** rate ?

  • David B | January 30, 2012 12:37 PMReply

    I have seen the film. I did not know anyone who was in the area of the World Trade Center on that day. I don't see how anyone who had a friend or loved one who was killed on that day could watch a movie about anything having to do with that tragedy. I have the same thought when I see any movie showing pain and death that is related to a real event. I go to movies to be entertained--not to learn anything. They are movies-the people are actors-they are also called entertainers. I've never known anybody who comes close to being like any actor I've ever seen in a movie. I admit--with some sadness--this movie was entertaining.

  • Lita Raymundo | January 22, 2012 8:38 PMReply

    Mr. Martin: I respect your opinion, but I thought that Thomas Horn did a great job for a child that had no experience as an actor.....Really he carried most of the movie....Sandra Bullock to me was the mother that was not there for the boy.....Until the end she did not seem to know or care what her son was doing...He was more connected to the old man and to his grandmother....

    I love the movie and I give it three chocolate kisses from five....my review :0)

  • Mary | January 21, 2012 11:02 PMReply

    I absolutely loved this movie. As a teacher, I predicted Oskar's behavior as Asperger's with moderate to severe anxiety issues. Children with that diagnosis have issues and Hank's character provided realistic solutions for his child's problem. Also, as a person who suffers from anxiety, I could easily relate to behaviors Oskar exhibited onscreen. I think Hank's portrayl was very honest and I could empathize with Bullock's character as well. I have seen parents invovled like Hanks portrayed so it did seem believable and not Ward Cleaver-ish at all. I wish critics wouldn't tear apart the movie so much and just learn to enjoy it. Also, the emotions that Thomas Horn put me through as an audience member were very real and I thought that the renter's character was needed and the rapport between the two was very heartfelt. Horn has my vote for a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor and Von Sydow as Best Supporting Actor. I adored the protectiveness Oskar's mother showed in dealing with his ordeal. It seemed so real and I cheered at the end of the movie.

  • Kenny | January 21, 2012 8:18 AMReply

    I agree with your review overall, but disagree with your criticisms of Horn's performance/characters. Your's and other's much harsher reviews of Oskar reflect slight to tremendous misunderstanding of persons on the autism spectrum especially those with Aspergers. Horn's portrayal is spot on for a child who has Aspergers, even to the point where he states his testing for the syndrome was "inconclusive." He obviously has mire than enough manifestations, and the Father's games including the ultimate final challenge reflect his determination to address his social challenges and channel his obvious gifts.

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  • Jim | December 28, 2011 10:53 AMReply

    Unlike some passing judgment here, I've actually SEEN the film, and enjoyed it very much. Yes, Oskar does get irritating, and incredibly rude, at times. Yes, some of the lead roles (most notably Hanks and Bullock) are miscast. And maybe the whole construct with the key and the quest feels a little gimmicky and false. But, there are wonderful (and earned) moments throughout. I was never bored, and it was nice to see a movie that celebrates the best of the human condition, as well as the worst.

  • Zoya | December 27, 2011 11:37 PMReply

    I was very moved by the film. I think it is about healing and the difficult path that healing takes. Each cast member gave amazing performances. The little boy was extremely intense and very believable. I think Daldry has done amazing work....again.

  • mike schlesinger | December 25, 2011 7:16 PMReply

    The trailer is stunningly misleading. It's mostly the boy running around with Von Sydow looking for the lock that the key opens; it almost plays like a kiddie version of NATIONAL TREASURE. (And the one-sheet looks like HOME ALONE.) The cast is full of actors I love, but I'll need to be convinced I want to subject myself to two hours of bathos topped with an annoying child.

  • Norm | December 25, 2011 3:53 PMReply

    Tough sell. Almost any film connected with this tragedy is complex. Is the young boy suppossed to represent our thoughts and emotions about 9/11, overbearing and insufferable...?
    The transition is comparable to how we deal with the event, incomprehensible to the point of total disconnect. I'll think I'll pass simply because of the failure of our government to act responsibly and could have prevented this nightmare. Why don't they do a story on the field agents who reported on this activity but went unchallenged. Where is that moral outrage...

  • Jeffrey | December 25, 2011 12:47 PMReply

    I never genuinely liked the look of this film, not even when I saw the trailer for the first time. I had to convince myself that because it was likely to be Academy Award material that I would have to go see it. The clips on Rotten Tomatoes didn't make me warm to this film either. From what I understand, in some scenes, the child goes from a thoughtful youth to an insufferable brat with amazing swiftness. Is he complex character? Perhaps. Is he easy to like based on a passing glance at this film? Noooo.

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