Whatever your personal feelings about 9/11, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close may be an emotionally draining return visit to the events of that day, a reference to a too ‘close’ for comfort movie with a decidedly intrusive soundtrack grating on the ears, the annoying, loud people sitting next to you in the theater, or even all three. In any case, Extremely Loud adds nothing new or enlightening to the 9/11 conversation, and verges on Hollywood’s exploitation of a tragedy without offering any helpful closure.
Forrest Gump meets Billy Elliot – literally – in a film collaboration uniting Gump screenwriter Eric Roth and Billy Elliot director, Stephen Daldry. Accomplished young actor Thomas Horn, through no fault of his own, is the idiot savant of choice Oskar this time around, instead of Tom Hanks. Though Hanks turns up intermittently as Thomas Schell, schoolboy Oskar’s doting, unfortunate father who perishes in the Twin Towers.
Adapted from the popular novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud revisits 9/11 and the aftermath strictly through the eyes of eleven year old Oskar, a precocious Manhattan single child who already had plenty to deal with even before his jeweler merchant father’s sudden demise. Possibly afflicted with a borderline case of Asperger Syndrome, though it’s more hunch than definitive diagnosis, Oskar is humored and distracted from his eccentricities by Dad, in a perpetual pathfinder fantasy hunt for the sixth borough. Which may or may not reside under Central Park, having been dragged there by said residents of the sixth borough.
Oskar also routinely disrespects and flings obscenities at the kindly building doorman (John Goodman). Which is probably intended as comic relief in an exceedingly morbid Christmas movie, that is making its awkward debut on what feels like a really inappropriate holiday for this sort of thing. And which is sorry, just not funny to heap contempt on a humble working stiff in what seems like quite an upscale apartment building. And in turn has Oskar coming off as a really bratty and annoying kid, whose arrogance would seem to run counter to the sympathy he’s supposed to be eliciting, as a child who horrifically lost his father.
There’s also a moping, grieving mom in the marginal wings (Sandra Bullock), who appears to be written into the script solely as Oskar’s chief object of scorn for failing to snap out of it already. On the other hand, Oskar’s grandmother who lives across the way and is paged routinely via a walkie talkie, hardly seems fazed by the loss of her son – even though there’s no greater trauma than to bury one’s own child.
And what is meant to tie all these stray ends together as the central plot device – a mystery key Oskar finds among his late father’s belongings, and the ensuing search across the city to find the lock to fit the key – is just plain tedious. And filled with encounters summoning a whole array of sulking adults, just in case the tearjerker soundtrack and repeated shots of Twin Tower bodies falling from the sky, haven’t sent you reaching for the Prozac already.