“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” Movie Review

     "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" may be perceived as a tear jerker, but the realities of this film evoke much more than that.  On so many levels, the film is one of the most gut wrenching I have ever experienced.  You have a multi layered story that comes together in the end with such raw emotion you can't help but applaud the skillful craft of everyone involved from the novel it's based on to the final product on screen.  "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is as daring a film as you'll see with its haunting subject matter and performances by the actors whose characters endure some of the most painful moments I've seen in a film.  The last time I saw all of these elements come together so effectively was Spielberg's "Schindler's List" and that film's subject is not to far off from the emotions exhibited here only on a smaller more defined scale.

     Jonathan Safran Foer's novel is brought to the screen by English Director Stephen Daldry, who last directed Kate Winslet in "The Reader".  Like that film, which dealt with the eventual prosecution of Nazi war criminals, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" focuses on another tragic time in our nation's history.  The story follows 9 year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) and how he deals with his father's death at the World Trade Center on 9/11.  In flashback, we see that Oskar and his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) are very close, while Oskar and his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) are not.  Oskar is rather smart for a kid his age and is very inventive.  Through his dad, he is obsessed with finding New York's rumored sixth burrough and is always in the middle of complex scavenger hunts in an effort to find clues.

     On what is deemed by Oskar to be "the worst day", Thomas is killed in the World Trade Center, leaving Oskar a tremendous void in his life and his relationship with his mother only heightens the problem.  One year later, Oskar finds the courage to rummage through his dad's closet which has been left untouched since his death.  He finds a key hidden in a vase and believes the key fits a lock to something his dad wanted him to find.  The key is in a small envelope that has the word "Black" on it and Oskar presumes its a name.  He then determines there to be 472 people listed in the phone book with the name Black in New York and sets out each Saturday to visit them.  For lovers of New York, the film covers all the bases as we journey with Oskar to Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhatten and everywhere in between, meeting people of all types and showing New York as the true Melting Pot that it is.  The diversity of the cast is something to applaud.

     One of the people Oskar befriends during his journey is an older man who rents a room from his grandmother in the building next door.  The man, known only as The Renter, does not speak and communicates by writing short phrases on a small note pad.  The Renter (Max von Sydow) begins to accompany Oskar on his quest to find the answer to where the key fits and they clearly establish a natural bond.  The Renter is one of the more intriguing characters in the film as I can't really recall a character like him in any other film.  His character lends a high mark of creativity to the story and is clearly one of the aspects that will set this film apart from the other big awards contenders.

     Aside from the key, the biggest component of the story is the answering machine that contains the 6 messages left my Oskar's father while he was trapped inside the World Trade Center.  I'll leave the many important plot points to your own viewing of the film, but I will say what you will likely feel is something you’ll endure rather than simply experience. I was stunned.  Oskar and The Renter have a key scene involving the messages, but nothing compares to the film's ending.

     If your hoping for glorious turns from Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock then change your expectations a bit as neither of them play central characters.  Their performances are fine, but they're not given many moments to truly shine in the ways we are accustomed to.  Make no mistake.  This is Thomas Horn's movie and as a child actor I've read had no prior acting experience, I'd say he does a fantastic job.  Some may find him annoying, but I think that's just Daldry staying true to the source material.  It's just the character Horn is playing as he is quite unique to say the least.  As I said earlier, Max von Sydow's The Renter is a classic film character and seems to be the perfect oddball type to follow Oskar around on his emotionally driven journey.

     Perhaps the only downside to "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is its subject matter and I hope this doesn't keep people from seeing what I believe to be one of the best films of the year.  The narrative is easy to follow, thanks to Eric Roth's solid adaptation and the performances are impeccable.  Most importantly, this film has meaning and I think that will resonate with the majority of people who see it.  I think if you've ever endured loss in your life, than the storyline will hit you incredibly hard and probably like no other.  Oskar is looking for what he knows will be the last thing his dad was able to give him and it seems there’s nothing better to give him closure than to find the answers that elude him.  GRADE: A