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'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

A movie directed by Stephen Daldry

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Where will the key take him next?

  • Jun 24, 2012
** out of ****

For me, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is about as difficult to hate as it is to like or even love. The reviews seem quite divided over Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, with some calling it manipulative melodrama and others considering it effective and very moving. The Academy surely saw something special in the picture, as exemplified by their decision to nominate it for Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards; although then again they also saw something "special" in "The Help", which I found to be overrated but not without its entertainment value. This is the kind of film that, like or not, milks the reactions that it gets straight from the audience with much force. But since it is that kind of film, I cannot bring myself to hate it because it has a good amount of devoted, familiar faces working on it. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is well-cast and engaging for particularly long stretches, but there was never a time where I felt very drawn into its story, which is one worth telling, in spite of the fact that Daldr is too safe and in being so shows little true affection for human nature.

A New York jeweler named Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) dies in the 9/11 Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center. He leaves behind him a wife (Sandra Bullock) and a son, Oskar (Thomas Horn). Prior to his death, the father and son were quite close. For instance, we are shown contrasts between the past and the present for the first hour of the film, depicting their relationship; which consisted of a mutual fascination with scavenger hunts, which Thomas had set up in an attempt to get Oskar to overcome his fears and discomforts. His death impacts Oskar greatly. The child keeps a sort of shrine in his bedroom, things that remind him of his dad, and he tries to just forget about it all; but he can't. Neither can his mother, who seems like she'll be depressed for many years to come. But one day while rummaging through his father's closet, he finds a pouch hidden within a yellow vase that contains a key. On the pouch is written a single word: Black. This is assumed to be a last name, and before we know it, Oskar is asking the doorman (John Goodman) of the apartment complex in which he lives for the giant phonebook so that he can look up everyone in the city with the last name "Black".

There are over 400 of them, but there can be only one whom the key belonged to, or was associated with. Oskar is concerned that there is a great mystery to be solved here, and so he embarks on a conquest to solve it. With him he brings the mute renter from his grandmother's apartment (Max von Sydow), who acts as a companion and a friend to Oskar throughout the journey across NYC. He communicates in hand-written notes on pieces of scrap-paper as well as the "yes" and "no" that are written on his left and right hands. When the two first meet, it seems like something out of a fairy tale; it is both fascinating and otherworldly. It's a shame that the rest of the film - what preceded and followed at this point in it - could not live up to one excellent scene.

Oskar is likely on the Autism spectrum. He even mentions at one point that he was tested for Asperger's Syndrome, although the results were inconclusive. Nevertheless, this would probably explain his peculiarities and attitude throughout the film. A lot of movies seek to portray kids with this disorder and not many actually succeed. This is another one that we can just leave behind us. For the most part, it's a well-researched and partially accurate study of a child with Asperger's, but it fails to get inside Oskar's head, and that is where it is severely lacking. One could even say that it's simply building off of stereotypes, but at the same time, the filmmakers at work took the time to do their homework. But that isn't enough for me. As someone with Asperger's, I hate to see it be used like it is here; as just another ingredient in the recipe for total emotional exploitation.

That's another thing that really bothers me; this film feels exploitative. Of our emotions and feelings, but also of the tragedy that was 9/11. In my opinion, those who claim "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is melodramatic and forced are absolutely correct; I felt that way too. The film seeks to manipulate our emotions through the tears of its characters, so it never really earns shit. Sorry, but I'd much rather watch a movie that makes me care about the characters before it even thinks of inspiring the waterworks (which this movie never even does, or at least it didn't for me). "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" will mean different things to different people. It is a competently made, beautifully shot, well-acted piece of work; but as far as a movie about tragedy goes, it's too cute for its own good. It isn't a complete failure as it is, but it possesses neither strong drama nor strong characterization. Note to the writer (Eric Roth) and the director; do more research, and next time don't try so hard to make it look like you just want to get nominated for awards. The thing just feels so goddamn needy, which is one of the main factors that contributes to why I cannot bring myself to have a lot of sympathy for it. Not a bad film, not at all; but it walks a very thin line between being annoying and cloying.

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More Extremely Loud and Incredibly ... reviews
review by . December 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A little too loud at times
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE Written by Eric Roth Directed by Stephen Daldry Starring Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and Tom Hanks   Making movies about the September 11 tragedies is unquestionably tricky. You don’t want to gloss over the facts and you definitely don’t want to exploit the pain but you also have to ensure that your movie is not so bleak and depressing that no one ends up seeing it. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, the latest film by Oscar …
review by . December 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close represents the best type of sentimentalism there is, in which the aim is not to make you cry but to actually tell a story that will resonate emotionally. It’s not a fairy tale, a fable, or a parable; it’s simply a film that works more on the heart than it does the brain. I don’t always appreciate narrative contrivances, but in this case, I have to admire Daldry and screenwriter …
review by . January 22, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) shares an incredibly close relationship with his father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks). Oskar is an extraordinary child who has some very particular social quirks. His list is rather extensive and it's revealed that he was once tested for Asperger's Syndrome. However, Thomas Schell spends a great amount of time with his son and does everything he can to help him overcome his fears. However, on September 11, 2001 as the world changes forever, tragically so does the …
review by . December 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Loud' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Is Moved By This Post 9/11 Drama
            By Joan Alperin Schwartz      9/11...All you have to do is say that date and most people will have a reaction...usually an emotional reaction...And for me, that emotion is one of saddness...for the senseless loss that so many people experienced.      And now, ten years after that infamous day, Stephen Daltry has directed a beautiful, moving film about...loss.       'Extremely …
Quick Tip by . May 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Saw this on my afternoon flight from Hong Kong to Singapore just last Thursday. I had often wondered how children who lost their parents during the Sep. 11 attack would react and cope with life after learning about their parents' demise. Unbeknownst to me at the time of watching, I had to deal with the unexpected death of a childhood friend that very night. The shock and subsequent reactions to the news is not something one who hasn't experienced will know what it's like. I'm …
Quick Tip by . January 22, 2012
Truly a lovely movie. Thomas Horn, the child who is in pretty much every scene, is a wonder, especially given the fact that he has never acted before. His face fills the screen for so much of the story, and he does an amazing job with the range of emotions he had to play. I was VERY happy to discover that the film was not made to me manipulatively weepy, as so many can be. I was also happy to see that there was almost no footage of 9/11 in the movie. The director uses the actors to express the gravitas, …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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