Reviewed by Marc Glassman
December 30, 2011
This adaptation of acclaimed but controversial author Jonathan Safran Foer’s 9/11 book is bound to attract Oscar mentions.
It’s sentimental: about families (fathers and sons, mothers and sons), vaguely political (9/11, with nothing explained), mysterious (who is “the renter”) and endlessly quirky (Oskar is a little boy with a novelist’s bizarre sensibility.)
You can see Oscar noms for big awards in this film’s future—if the public is willing to go along with its strange but melodramatic approach to a massive event in the US’ consciousness.
Coming-of-age tale; family drama; mystery tale
When Oskar Schell’s Dad perishes in the Twin Towers, the boy falls apart. His anger takes him away from his mother; honestly, Oskar had always preferred his Dad, who played games and made up stories to tell him. Their favourite story was about the sixth borough of New York, which had mysteriously disappeared, leaving clues in Central Park and other places in New York.
A year after his father died, Oskar found a key in a broken vase in his Dad’s closet. The key belonged to someone named Black. Given a chance to take on a quest, Oskar does so, mapping out the city and scientifically going about meeting all the Blacks in New York. The first one he meets is a beautiful Mrs. Black, whose businessman husband is leaving her. But there are many others.
Meanwhile, Oskar becomes fascinated by the strange “renter” in his Grandmother’s Manhattan apartment, which is just across the street from the one he occupies with his mother. “The renter” is a handsome, very old, silent man, who offers to accompany Oskar on his trips.
Eventually, Oskar is able to crack the mystery of the Blacks and the key, which liberates him to finally talk seriously and emotionally to his mother again. The renter’s identity is (almost) revealed and a kind of peace is restored in Oskar’s life.
This film lives or dies on the performance of Thomas Horn as young Oskar. Fortunately, he’s up to the task of playing an obstinate, absolutely intelligent, nerdy kid, who is working out his personal issues on the larger canvas of New York.
Max von Sydow turns in an exceptional performance as “the renter.” This should be an Oscar nominated role for the great von Sydow, who plays a silent character, who speaks through his eyes and body—and writing pad.
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are hardly Jewish parents (clearly the ethnic origin of the Schell family) but they do give solid performances, particularly Bullock, who has several big scenes with her son (Horn).
Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliott, The Reader) is very good at this sort of intimate human drama involving young men. A veteran theatre director, he knows how to get great work out of his actors. This film is not a flashy cinematic piece; it’s a drama and Daldry handles it well.
This film renders Foer’s sensibility very well. The only question is: will the public respond to Foer’s kind of preciousness in a 9/11 context? Harry Siegel of the New York Press once wrote a piece on Foer entitled “Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False.” Not everyone loves the man!
Will Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close be a hit? I think it will get a mixed-bag of reviews but, overall, the public will make it successful. It’s not perfect but it does connect 9/11 to something deeper—and that’s a good thing.