Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review: Tragic

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (12A): On General Release Friday 17th February

Eric Roth, writer of Forrest Gump (1994) and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), is no stranger to using contemporary American history as a backdrop for his narratives.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is another attempt to create a drama framed by American history – in this case 9/11  – but it a proves mawkish, relentlessly heavy-handed framework, a horrible platitudinous vessel of nauseating whimsy.

11 year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a very special boy.  He’s precocious, curious and has a passion for puzzles and adventure.  He may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome.  When his dad (Tom Hanks) is killed in the events of 9/11, he finds a key hidden in the bottom of vase with the label “Black” and becomes obsessed by finding what it opens.  Thus begins a journey across New York as Oskar resolves to visit everyone with that surname in order to find the key’s connection to his dad.

Staging a fictional story against the backdrop a real-life tragedy will always leave a filmmaker open to accusations of exploitation. Extremely Loud is certainly well-intentioned but its simplistic storytelling and obvious fairytale contrivances – the mystical tambourine that Oskar bangs every time he’s upset; his absolutely inconceivable weekly solo trips around New York; the silent but emotive old man who accompanies him; his relentless, seemingly omnipresent voice-over – do nothing for its sincerity.

It’s actually well filmed.  Cinematographer Chris Menges bathes everything in a golden warm light and director Stephen Daldry squeezes emotive responses from the entire cast, particularly Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright as an arguing couple and Max Von Sydow as Oskar’s mute companion – quiet dignity in a film filled with constant pre-teen chattering.  But the blunt and whimsical way in which everything is presented consistently undermines any of the good work done elsewhere.  Everything’s painted in primary colours – Oskar’s idyllic memories of his father, his nightly walkie-talkie conversations with his grandma, his bluff assertions to complete strangers – there’s no room for subtlety.

Asking a child to carry an entire movie is a gamble in itself.  Thomas Horn is well cast but Oskar is so unfathomably annoying that any sympathies are hard to come by.   The only thing he cares about is his own grief; he’s so blind to the feelings of others, so selfishly self-absorbed that you’ll end up wanted to beat him to death with that insufferable tambourine.  And yes, it’s probably too much to ask that an 11-year old have a well-proportioned sense of a morality, but this doesn’t make his constant prattling any more appealing.  If anything, Oskar’s mental disorder provides a shield behind which he can hide from criticism – any deficiencies in his character can be handily attributed to his neuroses.

Why did this story need to be told?  What does it tell us?  9/11 was a global tragedy which is inherently sad and losing a parent is in itself upsetting but beyond presenting sad things for consideration, Extremely Loud doesn’t feel like it’s earned any of the sympathies that it’s desperately trying to evoke.

I called it last year actually. Check out my trailer breakdown.

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