It is inevitable that some viewers will find Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – the film adaption of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel – to be Extremely Ludicrous and Incredibly Cloying. After all, director Stephen Daldry is best known for equally heavy-handed – albeit less cumbersomely titled – dramas such as Billy Elliot and The Reader. That doesn't stop Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close from being a well-crafted tearjerker that effectively does its job.
The story takes place in New York, but also in the young mind of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a precocious 11-year-old who collects random trivia, incessantly plays the tambourine and – as we learn through the course of the film – is possibly afflicted with Asperger Syndrome. When Oskar loses his father (Tom Hanks) during the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings, he loses the most central emotional pillar of his life, and struggles to find hope to cling on to. The opportune discovery of a key in his deceased father's belongings sets him on an urban quest to find the lock it will open, and leads him to cross paths with various strangers across New York's five boroughs, themselves survivors in their own way.
It is this reviewer's humble opinion that what matters in films such as these is not slavish adherence to realism so much as emotional authenticity. If one were to take such a standard as one's benchmark of measure, the film rings very true indeed. Like its source material, the film sidesteps the greater issues of the tragedy it portrays, focusing on the emotional trauma experienced by those who have lost loved ones in 9/11.
Unfortunately, the film also faces the daunting task of translating the emotional nuances of the original novel's characters into a more visual medium, and Daldry's efforts are mixed at best. The film is well shot and evocatively scored, but despite his precociousness, child actor Thomas Horn is unable to evoke sympathy in his innately unlovable character, a critical flaw in a character-driven film.
Thankfully, veteran actor and Academy Award Nominee Max Von Sydow provides some much needed chemistry with Horn, in his role as the mysterious Renter. Honourable mention also goes to Sandra Bullock, who plays Oskar's mother with a quiet dignity to her grief.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a movie that straddles authenticity and mawkish sentimentality, occasionally falling off the wrong end. Ultimately though, the movie manages to achieve a touching exploration of the ways individuals cope with grief.
Extras: Cast interviews, making of, a couple of featurettes and a documentary by director Max Von Sydow's son.
Film: 3.5/5 Extras: 3.5/5