Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Screenplay by Eric Roth
Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell
How long is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? 129 minutes.
What is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close rated? PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.
‘Obnoxiously Proud and Essentially Compost’
Stephen Daldry’s September 11th Oscar Bait Has No One Biting
I should begin by noting that I have no problem with a movie based around 9/11, as long as it is done well. Rescue Me is a good example of a media product that used the terrorist attacks to good effect. While it might have failed in other areas, Denis Leary’s FX series excelled at showing how that day had a palpable impact on everything that followed. When it comes to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 9/11 just seems like a cheap ploy to increase the sadness factor.
Based on a supposedly equally cloying novel, Loud revolves around Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a possibly autistic 11-year-old boy whose beloved father Thomas (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center on September 11th. One year later, Oskar enters his father’s closet, which his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) never bothered to change, and accidentally breaks a vase in one of the most melodramatic uses of slo-mo I have ever seen. Inside is an envelope with the word “Black” written on it and a key inside.
Before his death, Thomas regularly created scavenger hunts for his son to help him better deal with reality … by developing fantasy worlds involving a lost sixth borough of Manhattan. So, Oskar becomes convinced that finding the lock for the key is the game that will help him make sense of the death of his father. In case you couldn’t figure that out, he actually says it aloud since this film has an aversion towards any subtext. The main plot involves Oskar hunting down every person with the last name Black in the five boroughs and asking them if they knew his father or if they have any idea where the key leads to. While this sounds like a typical “it’s about the journey, not the destination” set-up, Loud even has the gall to provide us with a destination and a ridiculously improbable one at that.
It’s impossible to discuss this movie without taking a look at its main actor, newcomer Thomas Horn. While it might be unfair to lay the blame exclusively on his shoulders, he is definitely a major reason why this movie doesn’t work. Simply put, he isn’t up to the task of leading a film. And after seeing the impressive work of Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In), Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas), Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In, Hugo), and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), we know that younger actors can command the screen even against some truly notable adult counterparts, thus making the weakness of Horn’s performance even more apparent.
As Oskar, Horn is supposed to be a character who may-or-may-not have Asperger’s Syndrome. At the very least, he is meant to be severely socially dysfunctional. But he’s neither of those things. He shows emotion regularly and seems surprisingly comfortable talking to all types of people despite this allegedly being his weakest trait. Most of the time he acts relatively normal and takes occasional trips into brat and obnoxious.
One reason I can’t completely fault Horn is because Daldry and writer Eric Roth take noticeably lazy paths to express Oskar’s oddness. This is the type of movie that relies on numbers when it wants to show that a kid is smart and/or weird. (“He describes things with decimal points, he’s clearly off-kilter!”; “He knows the exact number of times a phone rings, he obviously cannot fit into normal society!”) But Oskar usually carries himself like a typical child… until we get a scene that needs to layer on thickly that he’s not. During these moments, it’s all too easy to imagine Daldry saying from behind the camera “now cover your ears and look nervous!” rather than Horn’s reaction emerging naturally from the character.
This also extends to the seemingly arbitrary quirks given to Oskar. For an extended period at the beginning, he gives a voice-over narration that makes Dexter Morgan’s from the latest season of Dexter seem positively insightful. But they drop it. He goes from always calling 9/11 “The Worst Day” to calling it 9/11. He’s afraid of everything, but only when the plot calls for him to be.
Aside from Horn, most of the other actors are decent but unremarkable. Hanks is likeable in the way Tom Hanks can be without even trying. Bullock, with her frizzied “I’m pretty but dressed down! Oscar me again!” hair, seems too sweet when she’s meant to be depressed and “in absentia.” Max von Sydow, as the mysterious mute The Renter whose mysterious identity you can figure out from the first time he’s mentioned, carries with him a genuine presence, but it is still not enough to elevate the movie or the part. As expected, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, and Viola Davis do good work in smaller roles, even if they come across as “I am just doing this as a favor.”
The tinier parts of the Blacks Oskar meets on his quest are occupied by actors as bland and lifeless as the roles themselves. They don’t provide much momentum to Oskar’s journey, and it feels as though they are just meant to show that the world is actually made up of different types of people. (There are rich people! Poor people! People who believe in uncommon religions! Transvestites! Blue collar workers! Asians!) To call this an unneeded lesson is an understatement.
When I think of a phrase to describe Loud, the strongest one that comes to mind is “tries too hard.” From its overbearing score to forced cutesy moments to father/son flashbacks to 9/11 imagery, this movie is so desperate to be poignant and touching that it even ends with a montage of people crying. But when you wear your heart on your sleeve, you risk the audience recognizing that it’s as fake as the Tin Man’s, and Loud goes so far in the wrong direction that it almost becomes a comedy. By the halfway point, you’re no longer watching the magic act, you’re enjoying the magician fumbling with the deck of cards.