Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, January 20th, 2012
Run Time: 2 hours, Rated PG-13
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow
Based on the 2005 book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer
Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Reader, The Hours, Billy Elliot)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (EL&IC) is sure to stir up more than a few emotions, as it sets the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as the backdrop of the film. But this movie is not about despair and terror, and is not really about 9/11. It is a film about loss, identity, hope and love, seen through the youthful eyes of an adventurous nine-year-old boy.
EL&IC is also a father/son story at its core. The young boy is Oskar Schell, played with surprising maturity of breakthrough proportions by newcomer Thomas Horn. He and his father Thomas (Tom Hanks), had the closest of relationships, and their bond came in the form of made-up excursions that Thomas would create for his son. They had their own secret pretend investigative agency, and Thomas would create very involved missions for his son to take part in, some of which would send young Oskar around New York City in search of notes and clues that Thomas would leave under park benches and public areas. We learn from the film that Oskar’s wild imagination was cultivated by his father, who forced him to look beyond the surface of a situation to discover truth.
This imagination would come to serve Oskar in abundance. Thomas was unfortunately in the World Trade Center at the time of the terror attacks. After this tragedy, Oskar finds a key in his dad’s room, and he assumes that this key was left to him by his father as one last mystery in need of solving. What would this key unlock? What would Oskar find? As a distraction from facing the loss of a father, the son puts his everything into uncovering the meaning of the key.
EL&IC tackles the blight a family would face amidst such a sudden loss, but told from a boy’s perspective, the film doesn’t depress as you think it might upon first glance. Losing a parent, especially at such an early age, will stick with Oskar for the rest of his life. Watching the story unfold, the adult in us says that we probably know the key has no real meaning, but the child in us wants desperately to believe that it does. The movie reconnects us with this youthful spirit of hope, of a time that we knew prior to being introduced to the harsh realities of life...that not all stories have happy endings, and that not all mysteries end up being revealed, especially in the way that one would expect.
In the peripheral is the boy’s mother, played by Sandra Bullock, who of course is grieving in her own way. As a mother, she wants to help her son. The son is not too happy that his father left him here with her. Oskar also has a relationship with his grandmother and her mysterious tenant who may also hold a few keys of his own. As we learn about the relationship between Oskar and Thomas, we also get insight into Thomas’s relationship with his own father.
Despite the heaviness of the plot, much of EL&IC follows a boy set out on an adventure. Unlike the recent animated film The Adventures of Tintin, the adventure in EL&IC has purpose. Therefore, we give a damn as to what happens and how it turns out.
Thomas Horn gives an amazing performance as Oskar, and I’m not quite sure how this film would have worked without someone so talented in the central role. Tom Hanks too, is perfectly cast since everybody loves Tom Hanks…without saying a word, we know that he is a great and caring dad making Oskar’s loss all the more tragic.
EL&IC seems to be a bit too long which makes the middle portion of the film a bit clunky. But the end result is a touching and personal journey that focuses on a boy in desperate need of a fatherly connection. The key’s purpose is not the point of the film, and if you are expecting answers regarding it, you may wind up disappointed. Instead, it teaches us the lesson that we all possess keys to the problems we are dealing with. It’s just a matter of identifying them, and perhaps turning them in the right direction
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