To be totally honest I was unsure what to expect from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I knew, as it starred Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and was directed by three-time Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry, that it was going to be emotional, especially as its storyline involved the 9/11 atrocity. However none of this could have prepared me for this emotionally draining, devastating, yet beautiful film.
Oskar (an outstanding performance from newcomer Thomas Horn) lost his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the nightmare that was 9/11. Always closer to his father Oskar is unable to communicate with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) on anything more than a purely superficial level. To cope with his loss Oskar shuts himself away with memories of father and the special bond they shared. One day he comes across an envelope with a key inside hidden in his father’s closet, with nothing but the word ‘Black’ written on the envelope. Convinced that the key will open something special Oskar sets out to discover its secret, and in the process learns to deal with his loss.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a no-holds-barred, sentimental, weepy in the old-school Hollywood style. From the outset which focuses on the close bond between Oskar and his father, to his strained relationship with his mother and the effect he has on each of the various New Yorkers whose lives he touches during his dogged quest to discover the key’s secret, the film takes you (and Oscar) on a roller coaster of emotions before his final realisation and acceptance of himself and his situation.
Daldry, who has built a reputation by depicting the whole gamut of emotions on screen from humour to heartrending drama in such films as The Reader and The Hours, perfectly captures the difficulties of not just a young boy growing up but also one who has to deal with the collapse of his world due to the death of a beloved parent. Watching Horn in the role of Oskar it is hard to believe that this is his first film role as he displays a maturity far beyond his thirteen years and is more than equal with, and was clearly quite unperturbed by acting alongside, such luminaries as Hanks and Bullock.
The other most memorable character – apart from Bullock who shines as the mother having to deal not only with the loss of her husband, but also her faltering relationship with her son – is that of the mysterious ‘Renter’ (Max von Sydow), who lives with Oskar’s grandmother in a flat across the street. Without giving away one of several storyline twists, ‘Renter’ is not all he appears to be and the bond he builds with Oskar, despite not speaking a word throughout the whole film, is both touching and life affirming. It may seem odd that von Sydow is the film’s only actor to receive an Oscar nomination (for best supporting actor) as Bullock would be more than worthy of a nod, but as he manages to convey more with the expression of his eyes than most actors could with a hundred words he more than deserves his recognition.
The feel of New York is wonderfully captured on screen as Oskar explores each of its boroughs on his quest and this along with the people who help, and hinder, him on his journey bring out the true spirit of a community who had to deal with an unbelievably harrowing and life changing event. Though perhaps overly schmaltzy in places, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a perfect testament to 9/11 – just make sure you take some Kleenex as you’re unlikely to leave the cinema dry eyed.
Movie Rating: 4/5