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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Released 17 February 2012
Director Stephen Daldry

Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell
Writer(s) Eric Roth
Producer(s) Scott Rudin
Origin United States
Running Time 129 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 12A

Shameless Oscar bait.

He’s certainly not the most well-known director working today but England’s Stephen Daldry have one unique distinction. So far, every film he’s made has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. After a distinguished career as a stage director he made his debut with Billy Elliot, a little British film that was a big hit in America. After that he teamed up with heavyweight producer Scott Rudin to make the worthy but dull The Hours and the worthier but even duller The Reader. Both won Oscars for their leading ladies Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet and they got plenty of other nominations, including best director nods for himself.

Daldry is back with Rudin for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, an adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Coming ten years after the September 11th attacks in New York, it’s seeking to become the first great ‘9/11’ movie. So far Hollywood has been fairly tentative about approaching such an emotive subject. World Trade Centre was Oliver Stone’s effort, but that was so uncharacteristically reverential that it was just plain dull. So can the team of Daldry and Rudin do the subject matter justice and snare some Oscar nominations at the same time?

The action begins with a shot of a man falling from a building and it quickly emerges that it’s one of those haunting images from 9/11. Oskar (Thomas Horn) is attending the funeral of his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) who was killed in the attacks. His mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) is having a tough time dealing with the emotionally unstable Oskar, who seems to suffer from a type of Asberger’s Syndrome. The build-up to his father’s death is then told in flashback. In order to engage his son in more social activity Thomas would set Oskar tasks and puzzles, such as finding New York’s lost ‘sixth borough’.

After his death, Oskar searches his father’s closet and finds a vase with an envelope with a key inside. There is nothing to indicate what the key is for, only the name ‘Black’ on the envelope. Oskar convinces himself that this is another task set for him by his father so he sets off trying to find the lock the key will open. He looks up everyone named Black in the local area and tries to talk to all of them, asking them if they knew his father. He enlists the help of an old man (Max von Sydow) who’s recently moved into his grandmother’s apartment. The old man gave up speaking years ago and only communicates through written notes. The two travel around New York meeting various different characters including a husband and wife (Jeffrey Wright and Viola Davis) who are having marital problems.

This is a massively misconceived film, with a structure that’s all over the place. It seems to think that it will get over its lack of coherence by continually laying on big emotional moments but after a while these just become exhausting and repetitive. Then Daldry throws in a series of twists towards the end, which only make things more confusing and unbelievable.

There’s a strong performance from first-time actor Thomas Horn as Oskar, but it’s fair to say this kid is hard work and listening to his constant outbursts becomes wearing after a while. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock do their normal thing in their relatively small roles, but Max von Sydow does do a nice turn as the mute-by-choice stranger.

He’s been nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor and despite largely negative reviews in the states, the film has also been nominated for Best Picture. It keeps Daldry’s run going, but you’d hope next time he just looks for a story that excites him, not just something that’s emotionally manipulative enough that it might appeal to the academy.

- Jim O’Connor