Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Written by Hatti Whitman
13 Monday 13th February 2012

What’s got many up in arms about the film is its nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars. In a year of seriously good films it does seem almost inconceivable that what is effectively quite a formulaic (alright, a very complex, but emotionally formulaic nonetheless) tearjerker should have received such a nod. And then you realise that the Oscars are American awards, and that this is a film about an individual trying to come to terms with grief in the wake of 9/11. Suddenly, it all seems to make sense.

The story goes like this: nine year-old Oskar discovers a key hidden in a blue vase in his dead father’s closet. Knowing how his father loved to send him on 'reconnaissance expeditions', Oskar realises that this must be his father’s final clue, and sets out to discover which of New York’s 162 million locks the key fits into. Aided along the way by his grandmother’s mysterious mute ‘renter’, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows Oskar’s journey towards dealing with his own feelings about his father’s death through his meetings with various people affected in various direct and indirect way by death, and by the Twin Towers tragedy in particular.

Thomas Horn makes for an engaging protagonist, even if his breathy narration and ridiculous pyjamas do get a bit irritating – but these are examples of loyalty to Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel, from which the screenplay has been adapted with reasonable fidelity by Stephen Roth. The fact that the film apparently 'stars' Tom Hanks is laughable; he has very little screen time, though as Oskar’s dead father his presence is felt throughout the film. In those scenes where he and Horn do appear together however they have a strong chemistry, making their paternal-filial relationship believable and giving credence to Oskar’s intense feelings of loss and guilt. Sandra Bullock is probably the unsung heroine of this film, giving an emotionally fragile performance composed largely of crying and begging Oskar to behave like a reasonable person.

The standout performances are from Max von Sydow as ‘The Renter’ and Viola Davies (star of The Help and recent recipient of the BAFTA for Best Actress) as Abby Black, a woman whose connection to Oskar’s key gradually emerges over the course of the film. Von Sydow’s Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor is probably deserved, and If he wins it will probably mean (given the trajectory towards success that The Artist appears to be on) that this year’s awards will be given out almost entirely to silent performances. Anyway, his role in gradually rehabilitating Oskar is played sensitively, and he and Horn make for an engaging duo.

This is not going to be Best Picture at The Oscars. It’s not Stephen Daldry’s best film ever, and fans of the book should not expect it to live up to Safran Foer’s complex and touching novel; however, it’s by no means bad. In fact it’s one of those films that suffers simply by being made by and starring people who’ve made and been in really good films. As movies in general go, this could be a heck of a lot worse.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is in cinemas now.

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