Tuesday, 17 April 2012
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow,
By Alan Bacchus
Stephen Daldry's (The Reader, The Hours) latest slice of grief-stricken melodrama (based upon the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of a young boy dealing with the tragic effects of 9/11) is so brutally over-conceived it's tortuous. In fact, young Oskar Snell might just be one of the most annoying characters in recent memory, a boy characterized as too smart and too mature for his age, a savant growing up idolizing his saintly father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), before he tragically died in the World Trade Centre on 9/11.
Daldry, working from another syrupy, magic-realist script from Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), moves back and forth before and after Thomas's death. In flashbacks and narration, we learn of Thomas's odd education of his son, sending him on a series of "reconnaissance missions," challenging Oskar to expand his perception of the world and solve riddles using intelligence, deduction and guile. Several montages show Oskar engaging in impossibly wistful sleuthing, the kind of next-level empowerment and education we expect from privileged, home schooled children, or something perhaps in an episode of The Cosby Show.
After Thomas's death, when Oskar discovers a key hidden in a vase in his closet, he endeavours to discover its lock, a task he accepts with the same dedication and precision as any other reconnaissance mission. The name written on the key is "Black," which sends him on a meticulous but ridiculous search for all the "Blacks" in NYC. Of course, there are hundreds. Yet, each stranger he meets actually welcomes him and engages him in profound conversations on life.
I would forgive this lapse in reality if the film didn't double back on itself and provide an even more ridiculous explanation as to how and why. Not satisfied simply with the idiosyncratic Hardy Boys mission, the filmmakers pile more peculiarities onto Oskar. When he's not making profound pronunciations, he's pinching and scarring himself in secret. He also does Tae Kwan Do, carries around a tambourine to sooth himself, has a fear of subways and bridges, and carries around a gas mask.
Max Von Sydow, curiously nominated for an Oscar here, plays a crotchety old man renting a room in his building, whom Oskar befriends and takes along the journey. Not satisfied with simply having Von Sydow in his movie, Daldry and company have him as a mute, choosing not to speak since the breakdown of his marriage decades ago. Thus, instead of dialogue, Von Sydow writes his thoughts on scribbled pieces of note paper for Oskar to read or follow like breadcrumbs around the city.
All of this hubbub leads to what is intended to be a profound existential reconciliation of the tragedy of 9/11. Using this important event as the background and theme of this tired hodgepodge of melodrama makes this pill even more difficult to swallow.
In the special features, of course, the proclamation of the filmmakers and actors involved would make this picture seem like the greatest film ever made. There's a decent making-of documentary and a casting featurette on the young role of Oskar Snell. But the best segment is the sidebar story of Daniel McGinley, a real person who died in 9/11, whose photo was used in a quick close-up of the memorial wall in the film. What seemed like an innocuous bit of set dressing turns out to have a unique story, one infinitely more emotional and resonant than this film's.
This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca