(Dir: Stephen Daldry, 2011)
You know when you watch a trailer for a film and think, “there’s absolutely no way I’m going to watch that”? That was my thought sitting in the cinema when I first saw the trailer for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It was also the same thought that came to me the many subsequent times I saw that trailer. There was something detestably mawkish about it, which usually makes me want to run a mile in the opposite direction. So what happened? How comes you're sitting here reading my review of something I clearly didn't want to see? Well, the Oscar nominations happened and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was nominated in the Best Picture category, which was a surprise to most, especially considering some of the superb films that got overlooked (Drive and Shame to name two). So I figured some objectivity and, more importantly, an opinion was required on this film.
The story of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close focuses on nine year old Oskar (Thomas Horn), a precocious, intelligent boy, who loses his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11th. A year later Oskar accidentally finds a key that he believes his father has left him, and sees solving the mystery of what it opens as the final mission from his father. Presuming it is something important he quickly deciphers the one clue on the envelope containing the key, and proceeds to traipse across the entire city of New York, meeting a variety of people on the way as he desperately tries to find the answer. This is all completely logical for Oskar who was used to his father setting him mysteries to solve that might involve some exploration of the city.
The father / son relationship is what drives Oskar. He looked up to his father and completely connected with him, whilst the relationship with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) is seemingly non-existent. Oskar even seems to prefer to talk to his paternal grandmother over his actual mother, who only lives across the street. In fact, it was only afterwards that I realised how little dialogue there actually is between son and mother (both before and after Thomas dies), which explains why things at home seem unnatural and don't quite sit right through the whole film. This is especially true when she doesn't appear to care that her nine year old boy might be running around New York on his own.
Actually it’s not entirely on his own. His grandmother is renting a room to an elderly man known only as The Renter (Max Von Sydow), who is unable to speak. Oskar inadvertently befriends him and he joins in on the weekly planned expeditions to find the lock for the key. Inevitably The Renter has a secret which is patently obvious from the outset, but the dynamic between the two is one of the more faintly interesting aspects of the film, as Oskar treats him as a conduit for what he’s missing most. However it’s frustrating that this relationship is developed more so than that with his mother. Yes she is grieving as badly but that seems the only common ground they have and he seems unable to accept her because she isn’t his father. But why is this? Why in the flashbacks did they not seem to have much of a relationship before "the worst day"? I'm not really any the wiser. It would have been more satisfying if the film had explored and explained this side of things.
Anchoring the grief and loss around the World Trade Centre attacks feels like a bit of a manipulative cheat, chiefly because it doesn’t really serve any purpose. Perhaps it does in the Jonathan Safran Foer book the film is based on, but on screen it seems to be used solely as a tool to hook audiences in, and gives characters an overly obvious reason to sympathise with Oskar. The greater point the film seems to be making about random acts of violence without any reason could easily have been made, and probably more effectively, using a less awkwardly hyperreal example.
Ultimately Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close felt like a pointless film. I really don't think it had much to say aside from an obsession with paternal relationships, and the resolution to the search for the lock is unsatisfying when considering it's importance to the plot. I don't think the film even serves as a particularly effective meditation on grief (watch Rabbit Hole for a good example of that). Horn puts in a very good performance as Oskar, but the character veers too much between likeability and irritation for you to really care about him. Hanks and Bullock are both decent enough in small roles and Von Sydow is good, but there’s nothing particularly special about his performance either. Although Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close turned out to be not quite as bad as I was expecting, it’s a very middling film and not something I’d recommend. With that in mind it's pretty inexplicable how it could be considered worthy of a Best Picture nomination in any awards ceremony.