(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express on 28 April, 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close/386460.html)
Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis
Director: Stephen Daldry
Rating: 3.5 stars
There’s a lot about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that begs a raised eyebrow. What is a 9/11 movie doing in 2012? Jonathan Safran Foer started writing the 2005 novel the film’s based on sometime in 2001, I suppose, and the moviemakers read and liked it years later. But here’s the thing about this film – it isn’t really a 9/11 movie. Yes, someone dies in 9/11, but it’s about a death that doesn’t make sense, about an empty coffin, the molecules of whose intended occupant are scattered all over Manhattan.
The book and the film haven’t received the best reviews, especially in America, where critics find Foer’s “milking” of 9/11 distasteful. Whose story is 9/11? Whose story is 26/11? If you like labels, you could call such an event ‘turning point’ or ‘national tragedy’ or ‘historic catastrophe’. You could use the more banal ‘terror attack’. You could say it’s nobody’s story to tell, or you could say it’s everybody’s story.
Being narrated by a 9-year-old who may have Asperger’s disease allows the dialogue to marry clichés with intelligent asides. And so it is that Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) can say, without flinching, “If the sun were to explode, you wouldn’t even know about it for eight minutes because that’s how long it takes for light to travel to us. For eight minutes the world would still be bright and it would still feel warm.” And his quest to find the lock that fits a key he has stumbled upon is all about extending those eight minutes – it becomes the last “reconnaissance expedition” with his father, the man who sent him searching for the missing sixth borough of New York, and who challenged him to find something from every decade in the twentieth century.
The film makes you think about what happens when you lose the rock in your life. When one person holds a family together, does his or her absence bring the bereaved closer, or push them apart? The film needs to be seen as a fable, though – it hinges on impractical possibilities, and were it a true story, it would give Social Services, photographers, artists, pragmatists, futurists, mapmakers and sundry others palpitations.
One only wishes it had been less garrulous. Its most powerful performance comes from the mute Renter (Max von Sydow), while the multiple-award-winning Horn struggles to hold his own among the likes of Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, for all his well-timed snarky comebacks and natural facial expressions. There are times when the dialogue gets cloying, and the intensity of its central character begins to grate. I mean, there’s only so much nastiness one can take from a kid, even if he’s snarling in the aftermath of a traumatic event. A nuanced script that breaks sentimental rants with sudden spots of humour is somewhat undermined by syrupy reflections and shrieks like, “Don’t be disappointed in me!” However, a film about picking up the pieces will stray into formula, and you know it’s effective when it makes you well up.
The Verdict: Even though you may guess the end, and parts of the film do stretch, it does draw you in. Go with a box of tissues.