Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close and Fairly Exploitive. No, that’s not quite the title – but it should be. Stephen Daldry’s film concerning 9/11 events crosses the very fine line between crass and dexterous film making with the most blatant Oscar baiting in years. Every plot element is so exploitive and contrived you would be forgiven for leaving a viewing suffering from saccharine whiplash.
Based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not your typical 9/11 story. Instead of purely focusing on the crisis of the day, it explores the aftermath and how a young boy processes the trauma of his father’s death.
Oskar (Thomas Horn), a hyper-intelligent, fretful nine-year-old, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, has a very close and unique bond with his father (Tom Hanks). The two often play games that involve adventures, solving puzzles and riddles. In order to get Oskar to socialize more, his dad sets up a game that involves a Reconnaissance Expedition to find New York’s Lost Sixth Borough. Before the game is complete his father is killed in the World Trade Center. A few months later, after “the worst day”, the boy discovers a key in his father’s jacket. He starts to investigate its origins, leading him across the city in search of what he believes is his final Reconnaissance Expedition. He meets many new people along the way, most notably The Renter, a mute Holocaust survivor (Max von Sydow).
The story’s protagonist, Oskar, isn’t someone you’ll embrace easily. In fact when it comes down to it he is pretty annoying, self-involved, selfish and rude (lashing out at adults and wishing his mother had died instead). While we feel a deep sense of sympathy for his character at first, he progressively becomes a thorn in the side. This is the film’s biggest disadvantage; a protagonist that lacks empathy.
Max von Sydow, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock (the mom) deliver noteworthy performances, but it’s all lost in the ultimate disappointment; a conclusion that feels pointless. It’s easy to dismiss Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as long and unsatisfactory, but there are moments of brilliance in there… somewhere. It fails with some dignity.