Stephen Daldry’s (“The Reader”) newest screen adaptation, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” is a well thought-out story of a 9/11 child-victim’s struggle to cope with loss. But it tries a bit too hard.
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn, debut) and his father (Tom Hanks, “Larry Crowne”) have a visibly close relationship. Oskar’s father tries to keep his son’s unique mind busy through scavenger hunts and mind exercises. But that is all interrupted when Oskar’s father dies in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. After a year of putting his emotions on hold, Oskar rediscovers his father’s spirit of adventure when he finds a mysterious key in his father’s belongings. As he searches for the key’s owner throughout New York City, Oskar pushes himself out of his comfort zone and is helped by unlikely characters in a journey of self-discovery, growing up and overcoming fears.
Oskar reveals the emotional trauma he endured as a result of the “worst day” throughout the film bit by bit. Although he seems sound at the beginning of the movie, Oskar takes the audience by surprise in his willingness to vocalize his pain with strangers. In many scenes his physical and mental scars are too overbearing and obvious to be believable, but in others his actions and thought process are clear and understandable.
If taken from a child’s viewpoint, Oskar is just trying his best to survive without the one he knew he could rely on. When Oskar finally tells the whole story of the “worst day,” his strength and stability demand to be admired. Horn has a very promising career ahead of him.
Despite the chemistry between Oskar and his father, Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”) is represented as an almost absent parent until her husband is killed, and she and Oskar are forced together. Bullock is simply amazing as Oskar’s mother as she tries to repair her relationship with her son, if there was one to repair at all. Scenes showing her emotional struggles with Oskar are intense, heartbreaking and more powerful than any other film this year. It’s a wonder she was overlooked this award season.
Max von Sydow (“Robin Hood”) plays the mysterious mute renter of Oskar’s grandmother’s spare room. At first, he and Oskar help one another out of their respective shells and grow a visible bond. However, while the plot seemed to be turning to focus completely on their relationship, Oskar demonstrates that he is the stronger character, breaking down The Renter who then runs away.
The meaning of his escape is there, but never again addressed, leaving a large loose end. Even at the end of the movie when a conclusion for The Renter is roughly produced, the essential question of his running away is not answered.
Symbolism plays a very large role in “Incredibly Close.” However, its place in the film is questionable. From the obvious image of the key in Oskar’s life to the images of The Falling Man throughout, having such prominent devices helps the audience keep track of Oskar’s emotional state. However, the film ultimately feels like it’s trying to be too deep for its own good. While everything is ultimately well put-together and makes sense, the sheer amount of weight “Incredibly Close” puts on the audience’s mind becomes more of a burden than something to be remembered.
Oskar’s search for the lock the key fits into leads him all over New York City. The film is shot with brilliant detail and showcases the diversity and size of the sprawling metropolis. “Incredibly Close” has a very large cast, most of whom are the random citizens of all boroughs of the city whom Oskar asks for clues relating to the key.
While Oskar’s interactions are brief, they never feel out of place or forced. Every side character is clearly helping Oskar understand a world without his father. The film has surprise performances by Viola Davis (“The Help”) and John Goodman (“The Artist”), and while their acting is superb, their presence seems only to validate “Incredibly Close” as an Oscar contender.
The overall message of “Incredibly Close” is one of acceptance and the unpredictability of life. The film’s themes are well conveyed, if a little overdone, with brilliant acting and a connected storyline that’s not too hard to follow. While definitely not a front-runner for Best Picture, following Oskar’s journey is not a waste of time and leaves a lasting emotional impression.
3.5 out of 5