Love it or hate it, this movie gives some of us all the feels.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the most polarizing movies in a long, long time. It’s up there with the Wachowskis’ adaption of Cloud Atlas when it comes to audiences either loving or hating a film. Interestingly, the common denominator is Tom Hanks, who stars in Cloud Atlas and plays a pivotal supporting role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Hanks, by the way, is his usual sturdy, relatable self in both movies, but particularly affecting in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is streaming on HBO Max but leaving soon.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close centers on Oskar (Thomas Horn), a smart and complex loner of a boy with autism (or something like it; it’s never quite explained) who shares a special bond with his father, Thomas (Hanks). Oskar’s mom is Linda (Sandra Bullock) and the family lives in New York City. Thomas frequently engages Oskar in treasure hunts of sorts, where he hides things around the city and leaves clues for Oskar to find them. Thomas dies in the September 11 attacks, leaving behind not only a series of increasingly desperate but loving messages on the answering at home, made from inside one of the Twin Towers, but also a key in an envelope marked “Black.”Oskar then spends the rest of the movie, spanning the course of three years, obsessively trying to match the key — the key to unlocking the rest of his life? — to anyone in Manhattan named Black. The quest is alternately hopeful, frustrating, sad, and energizing, as there are a gazillion keys in the big city and nearly as many locks, not to mention a lot of people named Black, and he’s visiting them all, for approximately six minutes each, in person, and only on Saturdays. Along the way, Oskar’s relationship with his grieving, detached mother evolves, and he meets an assortment of people, including an old man referred to as The Renter (Max von Sydow). The Renter doesn’t speak, but rather communicates via notepad and a marker, and with his hands, with “No” written on one and “Yes” on the other. Oskar also encounters characters played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright.Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close earned two Oscar nominations upon its release in 2011, for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (for von Sydow’s marvelous performance). Some critics railed at the Best Picture nomination, calling it one of the worst ever. I wouldn’t go that far. The film is the kind you tell your friends about, noting that it’s well worth watching at home, for free, but you’d have kicked yourself if you paid 10 bucks to see it in a theater. Directed by Stephen Daldry, it’s manipulative as hell, with an overwrought, think-this/feel-that score (by Alexandre Desplat). We’d all want Hanks’ Thomas (seen mostly in flashbacks) as our perfect, idyllic dad, and Hanks’ delivery of the character’s goodbye phone messages is utterly heartbreaking. The Big Apple, as filmed by Chris Menges, has never looked lusher or more beautiful, but should it? Horn, who landed his role after winning a Jeopardy tournament for kids, makes you care about a very hard-to-know character — or at least I did; your mileage may vary. There are red herrings galore, odd character twists (we’re looking at you, Mom, and pretty much every character who lets Oskar in their home), booming noises (the extremely loud part, I guess), lots of tight shots (yup… incredibly close), and way too many clunky, supposedly profound pearls of wisdom. Oh, and it’s way too long at two hours and eight minutes. And still… and still, we dare you not to cry. To really, really let it all out. More than once. The film is worth seeing for the late, great von Sydow’s performance alone, but if you crave a cathartic, tear duct-draining experience, then Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the cinematic equivalent of 15 sliced onions, 10 Budweiser Clydesdale commercials, five viewings of the Up opening sequence, three back-to-back plays of “Tears in Heaven,” and that one-hour lunch you always dreamed of with your favorite deceased relative… all rolled into one.
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