Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film surrounded with both excitement and disappointment, seems to have come from nowhere. Nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year and subsequently slammed by major critics (who insist on switching the words ‘loud’ and ‘close’, to other, more demeaning adjectives), it’s not surprising that no one really knows what to think about it.
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a young boy living in New York City. Suspected of having slight Asperger’s syndrome, he finds it hard to make friends of his own age and so forms a very intimate bond with his father (Tom Hanks), who creates challenges for his son to complete in order to develop both his intellectual and social skills. Early on in the story however, Oskar returns from school on September 11th (a day he refers to as ‘the worst day’) to discover that his father has died in the attack on the World Trade Centre. A year later, while looking around in his father’s closet, Oskar discovers a key and begins a seemingly futile quest to find out what it opens, his first and only clue being the word ‘black’ written on an envelope.
The film takes an interesting turn when Max Von Sydow’s character is introduced. Playing a dumb, unnamed resident of the flat opposite Oskar, with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ tattooed on the palms of his hands, he forces the boy to consider his own actions and the feelings of people around him, instead of simply rampaging around New York poking into their private lives.
Some people might be outraged at this point. How can Oskar, a boy afraid of loud noises, speeding trains, bags without owners and who can’t even talk to his own mother properly, be able to navigate the entire city of New York by himself and at the same time hold long conversations with people he has never met before? Yes this film is unbelievable a lot of the time, but the characters are so well wrought that it becomes easier to pass over these implausibilities and focus on Oskar’s quest of coming to terms with his father’s death; the story should be treated more as fantastical, than realistic.
Thomas Horn is a very good actor. Director Stephen Daldry is able to coax a very accomplished performance out of the first-timer, who unlike the many ‘talented’ child actors around, seems to understand exactly what he’s doing and, instead of being intimidated, is able to interact with the adults in ways that keep the film on its legs until the end. Daldry has had successful dealings with these sorts of emotional themes before in The Reader and The Hours, but here he handles the subject matter possibly a bit too lightly – it lacks the pain and gravity that 9/11 deserves.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, for the most part, a misjudged film. The characters certainly have their flaws, but are on the whole very well presented and it may not be worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture, but it’s certainly not as bad a film as everyone thinks it is. Please watch without prejudice.