Movie Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

“It’s never going to make sense because it doesn’t”

The relationship of a father and son is unique, some more than others. In the case of Thomas (Tom Hanks) and Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) I think this kind of extension of that rule applies.

Oskar is what many would consider to be a very special child. He’s incredibly observant and able to discern some of the most interesting things from the most mundane objects that exist in our world. What helped mold his imagination is his father and how he constantly sent him out on expeditions to find more and more interesting things. On September 11, 2001, Thomas Schell died in the World Trade Center, leaving Oskar in a state of constant missing.

A year after his father’s passing Oskar discovered a key amongst his father’s things and has decided that he has to find the lock that the key fits. Taking on an almost insurmountable task Oskar doesn’t worry about how difficult or long the journey will take him but rather just happy to be on a journey that reminds him of his father’s existence and gives him something to feel as if he’s still there right beside him pushing him to enjoy the mysteries of the world.

Part of me wants to lambast the film for deciding to rest itself atop the historical base of the September 11 attacks that occurred just over a decade ago, because truth be told there’s not much about this movie that really needed that moment in history to be a part of the plot itself. If the film just had Thomas die, in any normal film plot devised way, the story of the movie would remain the exact same. However, that’s like me complaining that Bruce Wayne’s parents could’ve died of cancer and it wouldn’t have mattered to him he could’ve become Batman regardless. So let’s move on from that and talk about everything else, since that’s what matters.

The film, to be nice, is painfully uneven. Oskar’s journey begins wonderfully enough with him going door to door talking to people he believes to be of interest to his quest and we get to experience that joy of meeting a new person and hearing their story piece by piece. It’s almost as if we’re getting a landscaped documentary about the people of New York and it is wondrous. However, eventually the film ends up introducing a few permanent installments in the plot, including The Renter (Max von Sydow), a mute old man who rents a room in Oskar’s Grandmother’s apartment. So we’re once again intrigued to find out this characters story as he aids Oskar in his quest, but finding out his story – just like the story of the key – are not as interesting as we hoped when we finally get to the end of it, especially since it’s painfully obvious as to what the answers are long before we get there.

There are some purposefully wonderfully constructed sequences in this film that do work well though. One scene in particular is when Oskar invites the Renter into his home to play for him the messages that his father left on the answering machine the day he died. I also particularly enjoyed how much Stephen Daldry made all of the introductions of characters that Oskar met on his quest felt and looked a lot like as if we were watching a Spike Lee movie.

One thing that this film failed to deliver for its entire runtime was a truly believable protagonist. In 2011 we saw films such as Super 8, Paranormal Activity 3 and Hanna where children actually delivered performances that surpassed a lot of the veterans in the industry. This film, which actually stars a lot of veterans, failed to pull off the younger character due to the actor’s inability to truly make the role work for him. There were a few character moments, “What’s bad?” where I just felt the actor didn’t reach the level where I bought it.

At the end of the day the film felt a lot like a collage. We, as well as Oskar, had met so many people on this adventure that we almost didn’t care about the end product. We just enjoyed looking back and remembering all of those characters one by one. Yes some were focused on more than others, like the first person Oskar interviewed, Abby Black (Viola Davis), and like every “five-minute” role that Viola Davis plays she knocks the scene dead on its ass as we have been done the same watching it.

Rating: 6.5/10

  • Dan

    Good review Andrew. I haven’t seen this yet but I’ve heard it branded the worst reviewed film to be nominated for an Academy Award. I think I’ll wait for this to arrive on television.

  • Andrew Robinson

    It is the worst of the nominated films I believe (still yet to see Hugo & The Artist). But at the same time I believe it has some merit to it and is worth a watch. However, the fact that it got nominated is forever going to ruin people’s expectations because now that it’s been put up on this pedestal it can’t compare to what people now think it is (or even the competition it has to stand up to this year).

    With that said I probably wouldn’t have watched it if it weren’t nominated… so maybe that says something about the Oscars itself.

  • Corey Atad

    I actually think the evocation of 9/11 is quite meaningful to the film, though it isn’t always handled tactfully. The film is about grieving and loss, but also about how we can find solace in the people around us. The film extends that beyond immediate family and into the community. People who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other are brought together and help each other because in one way or another they all felt the same loss and grief.

    The scenes near the end with Jeffrey Wright were quite powerful, I thought, in the way they illustrated that. Here’s a guy who was basically a neighbour, but whose life has been changed and complicated recently. As a New Yorker he experienced the impact of the 9/11 attacks, but as a man he also experienced the loss of his father in an unrelated way. The kid’s journey leads him to help Wright, and unlike Hugo (the other film with a kid trying to find the lock that a key fits into) Extremely Loud doesn’t dwell on what that core mystery leads to. That’s not as important as the sense of community and of people helping each other to move past the loss of loved ones.

    The film isn’t always successful at getting this stuff across, and it’s often a bit too twee and even annoying. But when it works it really does work. And that connection to the sense of a larger community in New York also reminded me of another 2011 film that I wish more people could actually be able to see: Margaret. That film doesn’t deal directly with 9/11, but you can feel the impact of it right through the film.