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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close | Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Thomas Horn | Review

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America, that took the lives of thousands of innocent victims had an affect on every U.S. citizen. Yet, nothing can compare to the pain and suffering of those who lost their loved ones in that senseless tragedy. While several movies have been made involving the events of that fateful day, Extremely Loud and Incredibly, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel, explores the tragedy of 9/11 through the eyes of a nine year old named Oskar Schell, played by newcomer Thomas Horn. Despite an A list cast that includes Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Max Von Sydow, it is Horn (making his acting debut after being discovered as a winning contestant on Jeopardy), that carries the film and consistently commands our attention.

Oskar's mother Linda (Bullock) was at work and his jeweler father Thomas (Hanks, shown only in flashbacks) was at a meeting when he was let home early from school. After arriving to an empty apartment on what he refers to as the “worst day”, Oskar soon begins to hear a progression of messages on the answer machine left by his Dad who was trapped in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Fast forward to a year later and Oskar is living alone with his grief stricken mother with whom he has a disconnected relationship. He desperately misses his beloved father, the only person he was close to and is looking for any way to keep his memory alive and extend their link (similar to the plot device in last year's Hugo). One day while searching through his parent's closet Oskar finds a key inside an envelope with the word “Black” written on it.

Used to going on citywide reconnaissance expeditions with his dad for hidden clues to an imagined mystery, Oskar begins to search the yellow pages for anyone in the five boroughs with the name of Black , hoping that one might have a connection to his father. Traveling by bus, subway or by foot each Saturday, Oskar sets out on an elaborate journey knocking on the door of each person on his list named Black and telling them his story.

Although extremely bright beyond his years, Oskar, is socially awkward and fearful of several things, "Tall things, loud things, people with bad teeth, dogs without owners, children without parents, ringing things; bridges especially make me panic." According to Oskar, he was tested to see if he had Asperger's disease, a form of autism, but, he says, the results were inconclusive. In any case, upon leaving his home, he makes sure to carry around a tambourine, which helps calm his nerves.

Eventually, Oskar is joined in his quest by a mysterious German immigrant known only as the “Renter” (a sterling performance by Von Sydow who speaks volumes with his expressive eyes and hands) in his Grandma's (stage actress Zoe Caldwell) apartment who has experienced his own share of tragedies including surviving a WW11 bombing that left him mute. Although he doesn't speak, the old man communicates with a notebook and the words “yes” written on one palm and “no” on the other.

Trying to cope with his loss and as he puts it “make sense out of something that doesn't make sense”, Oskar comes across all sorts of people that have an impact on his life and vice versa including a married couple in the middle of separating, played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright. In the end we learn that everyone has their own way of dealing with grief and loss.

Eric Roth's script is directed by Stephen Daldry, who has a reputation for turning out emotional heavy hitters such as The Hours and The Reader. Once again, he goes for the gusto, pushing the viewer's emotional buttons. I will admit, there were several touching moments that grabbed at my heartstrings and brought tears to my eyes.

For this reviewer, the saving grace of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the fine, sincere acting. Too bad the actors cannot offset the fact that the film is Extremely Manipulative and Incredibly Contrived, as well as exploitive of the 9/11 horrors which has left haunting memories that cannot be so easily healed as in the movies


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