Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close-attachment0

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Movie Information

The Story: A young boy whose father was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 searches New York for what he believes is a message from his father. The Lowdown: Well-crafted and well-acted, but too contrived in its story to quite ring true.
Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Stephen Daldry (The Reader)
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Zoe Caldwell, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright
Rated: PG-13

As an admirer of Stephen Daldry’s films—and despite my misgivings about the material and, worse, the poster—I was keen on seeing his latest, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. That it was a disappointment was probably inevitable—something that I might have been better prepared for had I gone into it realizing that the screenplay was by Eric Roth, whose work I am not an admirer of. Had I known that from the onset, I would have been expecting Oskar Schell (Kid Jeopardy champ Thomas Horn) to be in the “magical misfit” mode of Forrest Gump (1994) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)—which is what I got. How much of that is from the source novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, I don’t know, but it all feels very Rothian.

That said, I’m not calling Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close bad. But it is shamelessly manipulative and incredibly—and unbelievably—contrived. It’s also the only Stephen Daldry film I’ve seen that I don’t expect to feel the need to revisit. I’m sure others will find the film intensely moving in its own right. I wish I could join them.

In case you don’t know, the film is about a boy, Oskar, whose father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), dies in the World Trade Center on 9/11—an event Oskar understandably calls “the worst day.” Also not surprising is the fact that he becomes terrified of something else like it happening again. It’s also understandable that he has started fixating on his father, especially since his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), has become withdrawn in the aftermath. The hook for what follows, however, comes when Oskar accidentally breaks a vase from a closet shelf and discovers a key in an envelope marked, “Black.” Since his father was prone to devising searches for Oskar to undertake, the boy is convinced this is another one—and one that will lead to a message from his father.

When a locksmith suggests that Black is probably a name, Oskar determines to track down every person by that name in all the New York boroughs in the hopes of decoding his message. Two points immediately come to mind with this scenario. The first is the extreme improbability of a 9-year-old making his way on his own—at least till he teams up a character known as the Renter (Max von Sydow)—all over New York without trouble. This gets explained later, but the explanation is even harder to swallow. The second is that the end of a quest like this in any movie is going to have a lemon of an answer. This is no different, but it’s by no means the sourest such lemon I’ve encountered.

The overall tone of the piece isn’t hard to guess—especially given the screenwriter. Everyone with whom Oskar comes into contact will changed by the experience. It works on that basis, but it’s a cliched concept and it’s handled with an equal abundance of cliches—however well made it is, and it is well made. But there is one major exception in the Max von Sydow character—and von Sydow’s performance. Giving the Renter a traumatic experience—having lived through the firebombing of Dresden in WWII, which has driven him not to speak—as a parallel to Oskar’s mental state is a little on the convenient side, but it’s easily the most effective thing in the film.

For everything that the film doesn’t do right—or overdoes—it cannot be accused of being poorly or indifferently acted. Aside from von Sydow, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright are excellent. For that matter, even though I don’t entirely believe their characters, I can’t fault Tom Hanks’ or Sandra Bullock’s performances, given the material. Newcomer Thomas Horn’s performance works, but how much of that is acting and how much is owed to the fact that the character requires a certain mannered awkwardness is another matter. Whatever the case, the actors are better than the material. Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

34 thoughts on “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’ve enjoyed each new Daldry film more than the last, but have a feeling that the streak will end here. I’d love to be proven wrong, though.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ll be surprised if you don’t find this a come-down. (Then again, you liked Tintin, a movie that ultimately only annoyed the living Jesus out of me.) For me, at this point, Daldry peaked with The Hours (and that’s nothing against The Reader, except maybe that I could better relate to The Hours). I don’t know why — it certainly had nothing to do with seeing House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and/or Eisenstein’s Strike earlier in the evening — but I realized last night that Extremely Loud is strikingly similar in some ways to Hugo. Both are about kids looking for what they believe to be a message from their fathers who were killed in a tragic event. Granted, Hugo would need more stilted dialogue and an array of vaguely Asperperg’s-y issues, but still… Oh, yeah, I also liked Hugo more.

  3. Edwin Arnaudin

    Philip Glass’ score unites the three HOURS stories so well, and it’s a great film (top 5 of ’02), but THE READER packed such unexpected emotional power that I like it a tad more.

    I agree with you on the EXTREMELY LOUD & HUGO parallels (at least from what I know about the former). Despite my issues with HUGO’s first half, I don’t expect EXTREMELY LOUD to have anything as magical as the half-hour Melies memory sequence. Young Mr. Horn, however, could outperform young Mr. Butterfield, he of the vacant stare and fake crying.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Young Mr. Horn, however, could outperform young Mr. Butterfield, he of the vacant stare and fake crying.

    Oh, boy, do we ever disagree on this! Then again, I have zero issues with Hugo, but then it’s almost certainly my favorite film of this century.

  5. Andy

    [b]but then it’s almost certainly my favorite film of this century.[/b]

    Wow. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the film seems catered to your taste (from what I can tell).

    I’m curious, though. Did your love for Scorsese begin with [i]Gangs of New York[/i]? I know you don’t care much for his earlier work. Maybe this streak of his will give you the urge to revisit films such as [i]Goodfellas[/i], [i]Taxi Driver[/i], etc.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the film seems catered to your taste (from what I can tell).

    This does not, by the way, indicate that I have gone off the great array of 21st century titles I have admired and/or loved.

    Did your love for Scorsese begin with Gangs of New York?

    That is pretty much true, but…

    I know you don’t care much for his earlier work. Maybe this streak of his will give you the urge to revisit films such as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, etc.

    That presents a somewhat simpler scenario than exists. I have long admired his filmmaking (mostly), but found that he tackled subjects that simply held no interest for me. Raging Bull, for instance, is brilliant filmmaking. Do I care when all is said and done? No, because I don’t give a shit about its subject. Shortly after Gangs I was in Best Buy and I actually reached for Goodfellas. Then I saw the name “Joe Pesci” and thought the better of it.

    Similarly, I doubt I will ever be able to get through the end of Cape Fear and not burst out laughing. And — and here we have a film where I am interested in the subject — a similar amusement dynamic exists in Last Temptation of Christ with its “yo, Jesus” accents and talking animals.

    Now, having said all that, I should note that Mr. Xanadont was good enough to loan me some hoity-toity DVD edition of Taxi Driver that I intend on watching in the next few days.

  7. Xanadon't

    Now, having said all that, I should note that Mr. Xanadont was good enough to loan me some hoity-toity DVD edition of Taxi Driver that I intend on watching in the next few days.

    And I’d be happy to bring Goodfellas by if you ever think better of it. I’m no Pesci fan myself, but I think his performance is actually fairly electric as he wavers from intense hot-head inferiority complex to cheerfully over-the-top.

    But maybe After Hours would be of even more interest to you. You really should see it if you haven’t.

    No hurry on Taxi Driver by the way. I’d rather you watch it when the mood strikes (or something close) than purely out of sense of obligation or timeliness.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s a little late to tell me that, since I watched it last night. It was both better than I very vaguely remembered it (I’m not sure I ever saw all of it) and pretty much what I expected. As filmmaking, it’s very good indeed — though I draw the line at thinking it’s better than his 21st century work — but the content doesn’t do that much for me. (The fact that it was written by Paul Schader almost certainly has a lot to do with that.) It is enough, however, that I plan on delving through some other older Scorseses.

  9. Barry Summers

    A film critic who’s never seen The King of Comedy? That’s like an art critic who’s never seen a Giacometti.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Not really, no. A film critic who’s never seen a Scorsese, yes, but a specific film, no.

  11. Edwin Arnaudin

    So, what we’re learning here is that no one is overly eager to see EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE.

    Also, the ending of KING OF COMEDY is one of Scorsese’s (and DeNiro’s) best scenes.

    • Xanadon't

      I’m more likely to take a second look at King of Comedy before making a first go at Extremely Loud. Especially in lieu of your assertion about the ending, which isn’t jumping to mind very clearly.

      As I rewatched Taxi Driver a few weeks back, I realized I’d forgotten that Travis Bickle is really quite likeable at the onset, despite some indications that he’s a little off-balance. The same can be said of the character arch of Rupert Pupkin in KoC.

  12. Ken Hanke

    So, what we’re learning here is that no one is overly eager to see EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE.

    It does seem like no one is much interested in discussing it at least. I’m rather of the opinion that direction the discussion has taken is probably more interesting that the film. I’m actually a little surprised that no one who has seen the film (I may be the only commenting who has seen it) has felt the desire to defend it.

  13. Edwin Arnaudin

    I may not end up seeing it in theaters. Got A DANGEROUS METHOD, then going with HAYWIRE on Saturday and SHAME the following weekend, plus LE HAVRE and A SEPARATION are on the horizon. Depends on how long it sticks around.

    A co-worker saw EL⁣ over the weekend, so I’ll see what she says.

    But back to Scorsese: I co-sign with AFTER HOURS and also enjoy THE COLOR OF MONEY more than most. His ’80s work may be my favorite of his as an isolated decade: still gritty, but more interesting filmmaking and diverse subject matter (read: fewer mobsters).

  14. Ken Hanke

    Bear in mind, there’s an AFS members only screening of Dangerous Method this Wednesday. And it looks like the Oscar Shorts will soon be in the offing again. That said, Extremely Loud opened pretty strong here.

  15. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’m still a little hazy on the new Best Picture rules, but apparently at least 5% of Academy voters thought EXTREMELY LOUD was the single best film of last year?

    • Xanadon't

      I can’t quite get a handle on the new rules either but, while I haven’t seen it, that one surprised me. And ruined my otherwise perfect prediction. Thought for sure My Week with Marilyn would sneak into the last spot.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I can’t quite get a handle on the new rules either

    I think it involves the phase of the moon. Actually, both this and War Horse surprised me.

    I was more pleasantly surprised by Close and, even more, Janet McTeer.

  17. Xanadon't

    Actually, both this and War Horse surprised me.

    Really? “Spielberg” was enough for me to jot it down as one of my five locks.

    Actually, I misspoke earlier. I predicted 8 Best Picture nominations with The Help as a potential ninth and TTSS as an unlikely tenth. 9 nominations surprises me.

    So are we going to hear the same outrage from the Fincher fanboys as we did a couple years ago with the Nolan fanboys?

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      “Spielberg” was enough for me to jot it down as one of my five locks.

      I’m shocked he wasn’t a Best Director nom.

      So are we going to hear the same outrage from the Fincher fanboys as we did a couple years ago with the Nolan fanboys?

      Nah. DRAGON TATTOO is barely a Fincher film. I was outraged last year, but it officially shook me from my Oscar fanboyness, so it was a welcome awakening.

  18. Andy

    I, unfortunately, know a few die-hard Fincher fanboys, and even they understand the lack of [i]Dragon Tattoo[/i].

    Now, next year, when Nolan is inevitably stunned, the outrage will be at its worst.

    A few pleasant surprises and a few not so pleasant surprises. Was really hoping Ben Kingsley would get a Best Supporting Actor nod, but I guess Jonah Hill is more deserving.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      Now, next year, when Nolan is inevitably stunned, the outrage will be at its worst.

      There’s the potential for some series-end Batman love, the way RETURN OF THE KING was more an honor for the entire LOTR trilogy than the film itself.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Really? “Spielberg” was enough for me to jot it down as one of my five locks.

    I’m not sure he has quite the surefire cache he once had. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.

    So are we going to hear the same outrage from the Fincher fanboys as we did a couple years ago with the Nolan fanboys?

    Oh, I think it quite likely, but I will say I haven’t actually encountered anyone who was pissed that I didn’t love Dragon Tattoo enough.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Nah. DRAGON TATTOO is barely a Fincher film.

    That’s perhaps why I liked it better than most of his stuff.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Now, next year, when Nolan is inevitably stunned, the outrage will be at its worst

    And we all know — sight unseen — that The Dark Knight Rises is The Best Movie Ever Made. I’m surprised isn’t already the highest rated title on the IMDb.

    Was really hoping Ben Kingsley would get a Best Supporting Actor nod, but I guess Jonah Hill is more deserving.

    Yes, that must be it.

    • Xanadon't

      If the Academy insisted on overlooking Kingsley for a chubby funny-guy, they picked the wrong one. I could’ve lived with a Patton Oswalt nomination. But dear gawd, they can’t expect anyone to take Jonah Hill’s nomination for such an inert role seriously, can they?

  22. Ken Hanke

    But dear gawd, they can’t expect anyone to take Jonah Hill’s nomination for such an inert role seriously, can they?

    Probably they are and based on nothing more than the fact that it wasn’t strictly comedic.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I like Hill’s performance a great deal, but it was one of those obvious “funny guy plays it straight” roles that the Academy loves. Would have preferred for Hill to take a few more lumps before his first nomination (only four years passed between SUPERBAD and MONEYBALL), but I also didn’t see him delivering a turn like that. It worked for me and so did the film.

      I also like CYRUS more than Ken, and Hill’s subtlety in MONEYBALL has its roots in that film. I’ve liked Hill since his early Apatow days (and by “early,” we’re still talking 2005), but CYRUS was the first time I sensed he had depth as an actor.

      Wonder what originally-casted Demetri Martin would have done as Peter Brand?

  23. Ken Hanke

    I also like CYRUS more than Ken

    Oh, let’s not mince words here — if you liked Cyrus (or any Duplass Brothers movie) at all, you liked it more than I did.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I do believe this one wins the title of “Greatest Number of Comments Having Little or Nothing to Do with the Movie Reviewed.” I’m not against that, mind, but it’s worth noting

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