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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2011 American drama film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Eric Roth. It stars Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, and Zoe Caldwell. Production took place in New York City. The film had a limited release in the United States on December 25, 2011 and a wide release on January 20, 2012. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Max von Sydow. The film begins with a body that seems to be falling from the sky, referencing jumpers from the World Trade Center on September 11. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is introduced as the son of German American Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) who died during the attack. In a flashback Thomas and Oskar play a scavenger hunt to find objects throughout New York City. The game requires communication with other people and is not easy: "if things were easy to find, they wouldn't be worth finding". On September 11, Oskar is let out of school early while his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) is at work.
It's clear that the wounds of September 11, 2001 remain close to the surface. We are still a nation grieving, trying to make sense of a senseless act while chasing the radicalized ghosts that continue to haunt us. The truth is that we may never heal, the scar as evident and glaring as the new construction going on at Ground Zero. Within this context we have the stirring Oscar bait Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A flawed and often unforgiving film, this end of the year entry for professional prestige hits all the right notes. Oddly, they may not be the sounds and visions a decade-removed audience is ready for.
Young Oskar Schell (an excellent Thomas Horn) is in mourning. His jeweler father Thomas (Tom Hanks) was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, and ever since then, the boy has been obsessed with his passing. Highly intelligent, oddly gifted, and socially detached, Oskar wants to make sense of the tragedy -- and when he finds a key labeled "Black" among his late parent's belongings, he decides to go on a quest to find the lock it fits.
Much to his angry mother's (Sandra Bullock) chagrin, our hero takes off across the city, turning the task into one of the many imaginary flights of fancy (known as "reconnaissance expeditions") he used to share with his dad. Along the way, he meets up with a serious, silent man known as The Renter (Max Von Sydow) who has just moved into the room across from his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), as well as a couple (Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright) dealing with their own interpersonal pain.
Yes, this is contrived material, but it's good contrived material. We aren't supposed to take this gifted savant's search as realistic. Instead, it's a device meant to mean something...more. That revelation may seem like the heart and soul of narrative, but it's also its weakest link. We care more about the journey than the outcome -- and even then, the trip is so pat and preplanned for maximum emotional exposure that the mechanics are visible. And yet Daldry, who deserves some of the blame and most of the credit here, maneuvers through the mire with style and sensibility. The force of his vision makes up for the misgivings in Eric Roth's often overwrought script.
Because of the inherent trauma that still settles within the corners of our collective remembrance, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close fulfills its sometimes specious promise. It's not catharsis so much as a way to share the experience all over again without all of the pontification, horror, and suffering. In Oskar, we have a filter to find our way through the dust cloud of a decade ago. While foggy in his own way, his discoveries become our way of reliving, and our potential sense of relief.