Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
A Powerful Post-9/11 Drama

Even now, over ten years later, movies about the events of September 11, 2001 are tricky.  Still, the impressive list of talents behind the latest effort to capture the terrible loss felt on (and after) that fateful day would lead anyone to believe that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close just may be able to pull it off.  Based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth, the movie is directed by Stephen Daldry, a man who has earned best director Oscar nominations for each of his previous three films.  Add to that the fact that the adult leads are played by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and you have yourself some legitimate Oscar bait.  Ultimately, the movie’s success rests in the hands of an untested 12-year-old who steps into the challenging lead role.  Fortunately, young Thomas Horn is more than up to the challenge.

Horn plays Oskar Schell, a unique boy with a strong connection to his father, who likes to send him through the streets of New York on “reconnaissance expeditions.”  His father, Thomas Schell, encourages this because he finds it gets his shy young son out there interacting with the world.  When a plane hits one of the towers on September 11th, Thomas is trapped on the 106th floor.  From then on, this tragic day would be forever referred to by Oskar as “the worst day.”

Stephen Daldry directs Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseA year later, Oskar stumbles upon a mysterious key in his father’s closet and becomes determined to find the lock that it opens, sure that he will find a message from his father.  The only clue he has is the name “Black” that is written on the envelope the key was found in.  Using phone books and New York City maps, Oskar locates every single person named “Black” in the area and starts to visit them one at a time every Saturday.  He ends up meeting many fascinating people, but no one seems to know what lock the strange key fits.  This becomes increasingly frustrating for Oskar, who just wants to make sense of the tragedy that has struck his family.

As you would expect from a movie with this subject matter, the story is incredibly sad, but ultimately it is uplifting, managing to do both without feeling too sappy or as if it is taking advantage of the natural emotion related to 9/11.

This movie has a lot in common with Martin Scrosese’s Hugo, as both feature young lead characters that are on a mission to find a message from their deceased fathers, hoping that it in some way will bring them some closure and understanding.  In both movies, they may not find exactly what they are looking for, but the journey leads them to discover so much more.

The true delight of the movie is in the fascinating performance of Thomas Horn, a youngster with no previous acting experience in feature films. His only prior on-camera work coming as the winning contestant on Jeopardy! Kids Week.  Horn steps into a role that would be challenging even for the most experienced actor, let alone one making his movie debut, and he delivers a strong, affecting performance.  Oskar is a unique boy with a super detailed memory.  At one point, Oskar explains that he was tested for Asperger’s syndrome, but that the tests were inconclusive.  He’s frightened of most everything, especially in the wake of his father’s death, but he overcomes his fears with the help of his always-present tambourine that helps to keep him calm.

Horn’s talent truly shines in Oskar’s more emotional moments, such as a phenomenal scene in which he recounts his story in dizzying detail to his Grandmother’s mute tenant.  You can also see the emotional struggle in his face when he can’t quite find the courage to play the final voicemail that his father left on the machine on the morning of the worst day.  He is every bit as up to the task as the Oscar-winning co-stars who play his parents.  He has a great one-on-one moment with his mother, played by Bullock, toward the end of the movie.

Speaking of his mother, there is a reveal about that character toward the end of the movie that just rang false for me and I feel, although it strengthens the character of the mother, it lessens the impact of Oskar’s story and, thus, the movie as a whole.  I’m sure it was in the book, but I can’t help but think that the movie could have found a different way to resolve the relationship between mother and son.

That minor complaint aside, the award-laden production team behind Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has successfully made a movie that captures the emotions of that tragic day in 2011 and tells a touching story of young boy’s fascinating and heartfelt mission to make sense of it all.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is rated PG-13 for “emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.”  Young Oskar certainly knows some choice words and the emotional impact of the subject matter alone is enough to warrant the rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.