Morbid Meditation on Mortality Chronicles 9/11 Orphan’s Relentless Quest for Closure
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) was left traumatized when his father (Tom Hanks) perished in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. After being dismissed early from school that morning, the anguished, 11 year-old had rushed home only to see the Twin Towers collapse as he listened to a half dozen, increasingly-urgent phone messages from his dad trapped on the 106th floor.
Fast-forward a year, and while rummaging through his father’s belongings, the still-inconsolable youngster discovers a mysterious key hidden in a tiny envelope marked “Black” when he accidentally breaks a blue vase. Desperate to remain connected, Oskar starts to fantasize that the key can unlock a secret treasure chest of messages and keepsakes deliberately left behind by his dad in the event of his early demise.
After a search of their Manhattan apartment proves fruitless, he concludes that “Black” must be the surname of the person aware of the box’s whereabouts. So, he starts crisscrossing New York City by foot to visit every “Black” listed in the telephone directory until he finds the right one.
Although this doesn’t sit well with his mom (Sandra Bullock), she opts to not interfere with her son’s grieving process. Luckily, Grandma Schell’s (Zoe Caldwell) elderly, mute tenant (Max von Sydow) has plenty of time on his hands and is willing to accompany Oskar on his appointed rounds.
Thus unfolds Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a morbid, meditation on mortality chronicling a 9/11 orphan’s peripatetic quest for closure. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-seller of the same name, the movie was adapted to the big screen by three-time Academy Award-nominee Stephen Daldry (for directing The Hours, Billy Elliot and The Reader).
Unfortunately, this version was doomed ab initio by the fatal flaw of casting a Kids Week Jeopardy-winner in the pivotal role as the picture’s narrator/protagonist. Ostensibly-blessed with a brilliant memory but crippled by a lack of any emotional range, Thomas Horn flatly spits out his every line in staccato fashion, machine gun-style, as if he’s not making his acting debut but rather competing to answer a trivia question before fellow game show contestants.
Consequently, precocious Oskar ends-up coming off as unlikable and unsympathetic which is the polar opposite of what was intended. The upshot is that the movie does a disservice to 9/11 survivors by suggesting that a child orphaned by the disaster might be an insufferable little monster.
Furthermore, the production suffers from a relentlessly-grim storyline and a tendency to lift ideas from iconic screen classics. For example, the film’s final line, “Now, it’s time to go home.” sounds suspiciously similar to the unforgettable last line also uttered by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal. Even this flick’s “boy with hands over mouth” marketing campaign poster was borrowed from the one featuring Macaulay Culkin for Home Alone.
Extremely tacky and incredibly unimaginative.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images and mature themes.
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers
To see a trailer for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: