Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

By s. Tuesday, February 28, 2012 , , , , , ,
59/100 (129 min, 2011)
Plot: A nine-year-old amateur inventor, Francophile, and pacifist searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Writers: Eric Roth (screenplay), Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock

If things were easy to find, they wouldn't be worth finding. 

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" deals with a subject that so far was a misfire when it comes to movies - 9/11 did not prove to be a material for good films. With the exception of "United 93" Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" and "Remember me" were disappointing. The success of Daldry's picture, which despite mixed reviews went on to score two Oscar nominations including the one for Best Picture may soon bring in a lot of movies based on the most shocking attack of last years. Is it a good thing? "Extremely loud and incredibly close" while being better than most movies on that subject still remains at many moments, a bad film.

Daldry is a very good director, but even he can't make a miracle happen. The story based on a novel by the same title is the main problem with the film. It unsuccessfully tries to mix what is real with what appears to be a fairytale - young boy finds a mysterious key in his father's closet. Before his father died in WTC he was the closest person to him - the boy, Oscar, is peculiar to say the least and his father was the only person in the world who knew how to communicate with him. He planned curious trips for Oscar, treasure hunts and elaborate expeditions, during which Oscar was going around New York trying to find out what his father hid for him. After his death when Oscar finds the key he is certain that this is one of his father's gifts for him and he is determined to find out what key opens.
The story constantly forces us to suspend out belief - Oscar is walking around finding people named "Black" because the envelope in which the key was hidden had that name written on it. So for the big part of the movie we follow Oscar as he visits strangers, who for some reason are nice to him or even share their secrets with him. As to why that is we are not to find out until the end of the movie, so we really need to force ourselves to "buy" the fact that a small boy going around NYC and knocking on strangers's doors is a perfectly safe thing to do.

Another problem is Oscar - he is so bizarre and unlikeable it's very hard to care about him. At one point of the movie he actually shouts to his own mother's face that he wishes she was the one who died. And there are many issues with Oscar - he is obnoxious, rude, he doesn't know how to connect with people. He has many stupid fears and anxieties - he constantly lists them in his narration, as if we cared. One of those fears include him being afraid to cross bridges and while this is actually the one fear that is important to Oscar's interaction with another character farther in the story, most of the other ones don't make much difference in the film. Why make someone like this your protagonist? Apart from the fact Oscar lost his father and is hurting there is literally no other things about him that we could sympathize with. As much as all of his anxieties are wonderfully portrayed through cinematography, they serve solely as an opportunity to make the movie visually distinctive.
So there you go - you have disjointed story and unlikeable protagonist. With such flaws could this movie be good even in Daldry's hands? No. Why make a movie like that? Probably to challenge yourself and see if you can make that material into a good film. Well, the experiment failed. Fortunately, though there are many redeeming factors about "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". Starting with Alexandre Desplat's enchanting score to the really impressive cinematography that truly takes us into Oscar's mind and shows us how he views the world around him. For him the drop of water falling on the tub can make an overwhelming sound and the tunnel leading to the subway can seem more frightening than anything else.

There is also an incredibly impressive cast - young Thomas Horn embodies his character. I disliked Oscar but Horn totally disappeared in him - he truly becomes his hero in the movie and certain scenes - like the one where he is having fight with his mother or where he plays the messages recorded on answering machine to his newly found friend are incredible. That new friend is played by Max Von Sydow - he is the tenant of Oscar's grandmother and he is mute. Why he doesn't speak, we will never know. He communicates with the outside world by using notebook and his hands - one has "yes" and the other has "no" tattooed on it. He is a lonely man who meets Oscar by chance - Oscar tells him his story and he decides to help him, in the process becoming a father figure for him. Von Sydow is wonderful in his role which earned him surprising Oscar nomination, but he wasn't the best part of the cast for me.
The most impressive performance and I can't believe I'm writing this words is given by Sandra Bullock. She plays a griving widow and a mother who doesn't know how to reach her difficult son. One of the film's most powerful scenes takes place when her husband calls her to let her know he is in World Trade Center. She is amazing in that moment and makes the scene very difficult to watch without being moved - her voice shivers, she cries, but she is still able to helplessly and decisively tell her husband to try and find the stairs and get out of there. Bullock manages to be both fierce and heartbreaking, somehow, and the moment when we realize that through his quest Oscar and his mother actually had the chance to connect is one of the film's better moments.

Viola Davis is also in the movie and with a little time she has she manages to create another memorable performance. She plays a woman, whose marriage has ended in such a heartfelt way it's hard not to be impressed. She is one of those people Oscar meets on his quest and later on her and her husband played by Jeffrey Wright turn out to be the most important encounter Oscar had out of all the people whom he met and told his story to.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is not a good film - it has way too many scenes that go on for too long, many sequences that are completely expendable and a main hero whom I don't think anyone could like. But it also has a fair share of wonderful moments, that make the film almost worth watching - the individual scenes manage to be touching and memorable, but the movie as a whole simply isn't.


  1. this film really doesn't appeal to me AT ALL. I am not going to go out of my way to see it. I will wait for a rental I reckon.

    Thanks matey

    1. Yeah, I pretty much only saw it because I wanted to see all the bP nominees. In the end I didn't hate it as much as I thought I will.

  2. I agree that Bullock's performance was actually pretty good here, although we don't fully understand why until the end. I wasn't quite as annoyed by Oskar as other folks seem to be, but I did find that the combination of him and von Sydow's quirks around being able to communicate felt a bit forced.

    1. Yeah, the story is quite heavy handed at times, the story like that needed some light touch, like Big Fish or even August Rush, which while not being a good film, at least got the part of the child's journey right.

  3. Sati, did you realize that Oskar suffered from a form of autism-spectrum disorder, which would explain his strange behavior? I mean, I can understand why someone who doesn't understand this disorder can be turned off by Oskar's behavior, but to say that he had "stupid fears and anxieties" without understanding--or even attempting to understand--the reason behind them just sounds like a very ignorant comment to me.

    1. I distinctivly remember a scene where Oscar says he was tested but the doctors found nothing wrong. So there was absolutely nothing to understand in the movie, since the writers didn't bother with creating any basis for the audiance to "understand".