BRIEFLY: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a deftly crafted post-modern film that both effectively reflects and evokes the post-9/11 paranoia of America, while simultaneously being a simple story of a family told in the most unconventional Hollywood way. Most importantly Extremely Loud does little to answer all the questions of our world turned upside down on what the main character Oskar Schell refers to as the Worst Day—September 11, 2001. Instead of coming off pompous and preachy it feels passionate—a love note to the American sentiment both in fear and faith of the days that have proceeded since 9/11. Bullock, Hanks, and Davis all are on par, but it’s the silent performance of Max Von Sydow and newcomer Thomas Horn who steal the show. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is probably my favorite film of 2011 and had I seen it last year, it would have been my number one choice. Fortunately, The Academy did see it and tabbed it for a Best Picture nomination.
DETAILED REVIEW: Anyone who knows me knows I do read a lot of books (I’m an English major after all). I’m definitely into the more post-modern and contemporary literature than most other English majors. I prefer the voice of the time and the moment rather than the voice of decades or centuries gone by (This probably explains my affinity for Stephen King instead of Milton or Chaucer). I honestly don’t even remember where I heard about Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but suffice it to say I’m very glad and fortunate to have done so, because it is not just a stellar book, but probably my favorite book I’ve ever read—yes EVER. It sweeps you off your feet and you can’t put it down. A drug addict would call it ecstasy. A fat person would call it a Big Mac. An anorexic would call it Ex-lax. I however say it’s simply brilliant (like fry sauce and chicken strips—maybe I’m the fat person?).
So with that in place, let’s just say I was very excited to see the book on the big screen. I’ll admit though, I was weary. I mean off the top of your head, name a film adaptation that was deemed better than the book? (And please no mention of Twilight!). Yes, film adaptations are rarely deemed better than the source material. Ask any Potter muggle and even they’ll agree (though I do think Hermoine is far hotter on screen than on the page). Film adaptations seem to “leave out” things for the literary fans. I was expecting that this same thing could happen with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and it certainly did, but the result was not one of dissatisfaction, but quite the opposite. In the end I found the film to be as enjoyable and satisfying as the book—something I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The plot centers on Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) whose father (Tom Hanks) died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Left with nothing more than his father’s empty closet, Oskar seeks to find meaning after his father’s untimely death. He finds a key which he determines must open something his father wanted him to find. Oskar, despite his worried yet seemingly negligent mother (Sandra Bullock), gallivants around the New York to find whether the key actually is a postmortem message from his father. Along the way Oskar meets Abbey Black (Viola Davis), The Renter (Max Von Sydow), and others none of which know anything about the key or Oskar’s father.
Remarkably, the film manages not to slump into some sort of travelogue for New York City. I wondered if we’d see Oskar looking around Times Square or searching for answers at the Statue of Liberty, but fortunately the New York presented on screen is a mysterious one—the real one. Credit director Stephen Daldry for finding the right tone for a city as iconic as New York and yet making it feel almost foreign and new.
Daldry is no stranger to Oscar fair either with his films like The Hours, The Reader, and Billy Elliot. He has a knack for finding a story that can be both touching and heartbreaking, but most of all entertaining. Extremely Loud is no different having garnered nominations now for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor with Sydow’s work.
What’s most interesting about the film is how Daldry captures the feeling, the genuine sentiment of the dark days that preceded 9/11. We were all in deed a little nervous and wondered if things would be even darker in the days that were yet to come. Would there ever be a “normal?” Daldry projects these feelings in Oskar (who in the book has Asperger’s syndrome, though the film doesn’t clearly define him that way). Oskar wants so badly to understand his father’s death, but to an audience who grew up in such perilous times we find ourselves, in moments of pure catharsis, thinking the exact same things he does (like being suspicious of public transportation). Though Daldry dabbles with the “why,” he wisely sidesteps the answers simply with “It’s not going to make sense, because it’s not supposed to” (that’s a line delivered from a teary eyed Sandra Bullock who subsequently made me teary—Kleenex please?!).
Though I won’t reveal any of the third act of Extremely Loud I will say that is an extremely (no pun intended) satisfying climax coupled with an effective denouement. Oskar finds, something we all know but rarely say, that he isn’t the only one suffering and more importantly he is not alone. Though he can’t completely resolve the death of his father, he has finally developed the courage to move on. Much like the American public (for better or worse) that’s what we’ve done—moved on. Though the plot of the film revolves around Oskar and his family, the story aims higher, becoming a sort of allegory to Americanism in the wake of 9/11—and in my opinion it does it beautifully.
I’m truly surprised that the film has been so divisive among critics (It’s currently at 46% on rottentomatoes.com). Maybe this is more a reflection of the current political landscape, one divided both on war and the economy, than representative of the film itself? Regardless, the other 54% are wrong. It’s a movie that not only “moves” you but inspires you. I know it made me break out my laptop and pound out a few pages on my screenplay. Though one thing is for sure, anyone (myself included) will be extremely hard-pressed and have to be incredibly talented to match the revelatory scope, both in word and image, of this movie. Don’t miss it. It’s the Best Picture of 2011.