I was sceptical about this film after hearing and reading many a negative review of it despite its Oscar nomination. But I am a huge fan of Stephen Daldry’s work and consider The Hours (2002) to be one of my favourite films and let me tell you, Daldry did not let me down. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is not your typical nine year old boy. He doesn’t really have any friends, enjoys mapping tasks and treasure hunts set by his dad (Tom Hanks) and is afraid of bridges and swings amongst many other things. He was tested to see if he had Asperger’s but the test was inconclusive, he states. Suddenly Oskar’s world is ripped apart by September 11, 2001 as his dad is killed in the World Trade Center. When looking in his father’s closet Oskar finds a strange key in an envelope with the name Black on and realises he has one more mission set by his father; to find the lock for the key. What follows is Oskar’s systematic approach to finding the ‘Black’, out of 472 listed in the New York phonebook, who would know about the key, and in turn he embarks on a journey of how to deal with grief and loss and how to make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense.
At over two hours long I really expected this film to drag, but it didn’t. I was enthralled by the story and the way it is told throughout. We follow Oskar on his mission and see the people he meets and also go back in time and see his close relationship with his father. For some, this film may be about September 11th but for me that side of it wasn’t the focus, this is a film about a young boy learning to deal with the loss of his father and learning to deal with the scary world. That said the scenes featuring the Twin Towers gave me goose bumps as I remembered that horrible feeling when I first heard the news.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a coming of age tale with imagination and heart. Imagination can be seen throughout the film in the set design and props and costumes, reflecting both Oskar’s and his father’s vivid imagination and fondness for objects. These characters are immediately interesting and I found myself drawn into their world straight away. One scene where Oskar is out on his mission sees paper birds animated on top, reflecting his imagination and creativity, the birds later appear in a beautiful book Oskar has created about his task.
Thomas Horn does a tremendous job of playing Oskar, one particular scene where he breaks down is absolutely heart-breaking, he is an incredibly talented young actor. Tom Hanks is his usual affable self and Sandra Bullock is surprisingly good as Oskar’s mum dealing with the loss of her husband but having to remain strong and look after her struggling son. Max Von Sydow plays The Renter, who occupies Oskar’s Grandmother’s spare room and has lost the ability to speak. Sydow’s face is extraordinary and the actor portrays a mass of emotions in his weathered face, a face I could explore all day. His silent performance is brilliant and supplements the apparent new trend for silent movies, with The Artist (2011) and Hugo (2011) both huge success stories.
As with all of Daldry’s films music is integral and in this film it really adds to the emotional impact of the story. Film composer Alexandre Desplat creates such beautifully emotive music and this film has several extremely poignant moments. But there are plenty of laughs as well, and the balance feels just right. Whilst the subject matter is serious there is plenty of frivolity as well. My only criticism is that the ending is rather neatly tied up and has a slight twee feel, but a film like this needs an uplifting ending and the resolution is satisfying.
This film could have just been about New York and its inhabitants but it has so much more going on as well and each part fits together perfectly like the right key in a lock. It is beautifully constructed and captures the humanity that can come as a result of tragedy, something we all need to be reminded of. Overall Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a great achievement and a worthy Oscar contender.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow
Runtime: 129 mins