Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Review
By Bret Dorman
I like most other critics was ready to come into this movie and tear it a new one. A 9/11 Oscar Bait movie that features a kid going on the quirkiest of impossible of adventures while befriending an old man? Yeah…
But Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn’t AS purely Oscar Bait-y as I thought it would be. it really seems to have a heart and want to tell a personal story. It also is sort of frustrating at times while also being a bit heartwarming at others. In the everything balances out to deliver an acceptable 9/11 drama.
Story: Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a boy whose Dad (Tom Hanks) died in 9/11 and his mom (Sandra Bullock) is sad and away a lot. In an attempt to keep the memories of his dad alive, Oskar goes on a journey to find the lock that belongs to his Dad’s hidden key. Along the way some old man (Max Von Sydow) joins him temporarily. Also, Viola Davis follows her usual Supporting Actress Formula, showing up for two scenes, crying a bunch in one of them.
I think two things are contributing to the immense hatred of this movie by other critics. Firstly, it was up for a bunch of Oscar buzz before it had been released and looking at the plot synopsis it’s easy to see why, based solely on the plot synopsis. Director Stephen Daldry is now 4 for 4 in getting an Oscar nom for his directorial work. Secondly, based solely on the plot synopsis, this movie seems to be a movie desperately pinning for an Oscar rather than a story that must or should be told. And the talent involved is better than that and using 9/11 as a cheap and easy tear jerking gimmick to make people cry and trick them into thinking this is a good movie is a despicable thing that film critics hate.
But these are preconceived notions that deal with one silly award show that we can all agree is ridiculous at best. Movies that win barely anything, are nominated for a few categories, or snubbed all together will still live on in film history. Movies that win a bunch of stuff even though maybe they weren’t that good still tend to disappear or drift away. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not a perfect movie but its got it’s fair share of admirable attempts.
In some ways this movie is similar to Hugo, similar in the sense that a young boy is looking for an answer to a mystery his dead father left him and similar in the sense that the emotional reveals of the movie all center around the same thing being slowly revealed over and over. We have to listen to the same 9/11 tape in three different occasions (at least) and each time it’s supposed to become more and more dramatic. As we learn about a newspaper clipping and it’s highlighted section and Viola Davis we slowly learn of these cosmic coincidences that are supposed to be big reveals that are mind bogglingly awesome. Instead they just seem like nuisances.
Thomas Horn does a fine job. In fact I think he does an excellent job at committing to his character, who at times can be pretty funny and have genuine character based laughs. The problem is that no matter how much Asperger’s he doesn’t have, he seems like a collection of quirks rather than a real boy. His taekwondo is understandable (increase self-confidence) but barely carried throughout, coming up only when its not important. His oxy moron battles are not fun or funny and we’ve heard them all before. But most importantly, it’s unclear wether he was afraid of everything and everyone before or after 9/11 and how much of a role that played in how much Asperger’s syndrome he may or may not have.
I struggle with this idea that every character should be likable. No one in this movie is extremely likable. The kid says some pretty mean stuff to his mom. I also struggle with how much of a quirk should be in a movie and how it should be used. Take the movie Smoking’ Aces for example. A bunch of characters in that movie are defined solely by their quirks. Two different genres? Yes. But if I like when a movie has quirky characters for the sole purpose of action why not for the sole purpose of drama? Also what’s wrong with trying to make normal humans just a tad bit more interesting? And if sometimes those traits are annoying why is that bad? I know plenty of people who I like or dislike in real life who have annoying traits. But in a movie we feel that every character should not only be super human (not superhuman) and super realistic, but also ultra likable? I’m not trying to defend the movie but it seems silly that I can hold action movies to such varying levels of strict enjoyment to mind numbing fun and when it comes to dramas they must all be masterpieces. If the answer is this movie deals with 9/11 so it shouldn’t be a lesser drama for the sake of cheap emotional reactions I disagree. I think the 9/11ness is handled pretty well in the context of the movie and that most people’s problems with it are baggage they bring in beforehand. The movie is not THAT self-important, no where near the level I felt during Crash or Precious.
I personally like the attempts to spice up the story and make it about something more than just sadness. In the end I don’t think it succeeds all too well but it tried and I believe it was earnest in its attempt. I also like that in the end there’s a kind of satisfying but downer sort of ending and a separate kind of satisfying feel good ending. Is it so wrong that this movie tries to entertain us by giving us a human story and a formulaic emotional through line or two?
Okay, so some ways in we meet The Renter, who is described beforehand has a man who visits a lot but doesn’t interact any and has a mysterious past and a lot of emphasis is placed on him out of nowhere. So it’s easy to see right away for anyone not fully invested in ‘the moment’ that he is the kids Grandfather. I was bored enough to daydream ahead and was fully aware that most of what this movie was doing was planning ahead for future tear jerking scenes of coincidence and/or sadness. I like that the grandfather didn’t talk, saved all his notebooks (interesting to think that you could go back and look at any conversation he had but ONLY his point of view… Wish it was used…) and had the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ tattoos n his hands. But his entrance and exit in the movie are questionably too manipulative. It’s time for him to show up aaaaaaaand now it’s time for him to go. Moving along!
The whole Mom thing where she went ahead of the kid and made sure it was all okay was super sappy and ridiculous but you know what? I bought it. At least on an emotional level. Maybe it is because I could picture my mom doing the same? But I don’t like how we on,y see his interactions with people where they call attention to it AFTER this is revealed. It would be nice if a subtle line or two was dropped in before hand instead of purposefully withholding info from us. Also, at one point someone threatens the kid (and Grandfather) and it turns out he was also sort of threatening to the Mom too? So… Why would she let him go there if the point was for her to check up and make sure he was going to be safe?
The Viola Davis connection is silly and his conversation with Jeffery Wright’s character goes on a bit too long and makes Wright’s story way to melodramatic. It seems silly for him to invite the kid along to the safety deposit box but appropriate for the kid to turn him down realizing it’s the end of his journey with the key. Cue the swing set and a real hidden message from his Dad meant for him and you got a heartwarmingly happy ending. Fine.
In Conclusion, while Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is being unfairly picked on to some degree, to another it really is just an average sappy tear jerking heart warming quirky tale of a kid making some personal growth while touching the lives of strangers. Oscar worthy? No way. Worst movie of the Month? Year? Decade? Come on…
Final Grade: C