Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a film that personally offended me, not so much for its use of 9/11 (albeit it doesn’t sit well) but due to a manipulative script, obnoxious, annoying and illogical characters and some of the poorest on-screen chemistry I’ve seen in a while mainly between Oskar and his father which looked and sounded entirely contrived.
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 129 min. – $35.99 | March 27, 2012
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Writer(s): Jonathan Safran Foer (novel); Eric Roth (screenplay)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Max von Sydow
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2011 (limited), January 20, 2012 (wider)
Features: Featurettes, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Slip Cover? Yes
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 34.5 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 2.0/5
Note: This review does contain spoilers!
If there’s one thing I hate seeing in movies, its precocious children. You know the type, a kid who knows everything and is seemingly smarter than his or her parents; filmmakers thinking they’re oh so adorable but instead they chew up any scene they’re in thus bringing down the rest of the movie with them. I would be happy to say that the precocious little twerp was the reason the Award-baiting Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close failed but he’s only part of the equation, there’s so many other elements for this film’s failures…
The story begins on an extreme close-up shot of Tom Hanks’ flailing body (mostly legs) as he’s apparently falling from one of the Towers in what was supposed to be a dramatic opening but instead just came across awkward if nothing else. After that scene, which transitions into the movie’s title, we meet Oskar (THOMAS HORN); a kid who’s slightly off due to a condition that doctors believe might be Asperger syndrome, though none could conclusively say what it is. Still, Oskar encompasses the movie’s title. Anyway, he comes home on “the worst day” (i.e. 9/11/2001) to hear numerous messages left by his father, Thomas Schell (TOM HANKS), as he’s stuck in one of the towers and doesn’t know what’s going on.
In between the scenes on “The Worst Day”, we get some flashbacks that’s supposed to establish the relationship between Oskar and his father, from an odd double shrug to wild curiosity as his father wants Oskar to explore more about the world, although he’s not so keen on the outside world being afraid of everything from public transportation (understandable) to swings (wtf?). The problem with this relationship isn’t so much with the casting as I can’t imagine if you replaced Tom Hanks with some other veteran actor and/or Thomas Horn with another young actor that those scenes wouldn’t feel any less contrived and forced; although it could be argued the kid would’ve been less grating on the ears.
In any case, we get the flashbacks with Oskar’s father and “The Worst Day”, and the plot picks up some time after 9/11 when Oskar goes into his father’s closet and finds a pair of his father’s binoculars on top of a shelf and when trying to grab it, accidentally topples over the vase sitting next to it. The vase crashes, in slow-motion (akin to the coffee mug breaking in The Usual Suspects) to the ground where he finds an envelope with a key inside and the name “Black” written on it. Oskar believes this key was meant for him from his father as a clue and becomes obsessed with finding out which lock it opens and his first step was to find out who “Black” was and thus manages to go through the phone book. He plans on one by one tracking each down, along the way meeting a plethora of interesting people including Abby Black (VIOLA DAVIS), a woman whose marriage is falling apart.
Oh, did I forget to mention Oskar’s mom, Linda Schell (SANDRA BULLOCK), is around? Yeah, she kind of pops in and out at random times and from appearances not only has no idea how to deal with her son, who obviously needs professional help dealing with the tragedy, but it’s revealed later on (this is most definitely a SPOILER ALERT) that she knew what he was doing: traipsing around New York City and while she was scared out of her mind, it apparently never occurred to her that her son could run into unsavory and dangerous people in his journey. True, even perverts were horrified by the events of 9/11 but I doubt they could resist snatching a kid off the streets…
Earlier in the film, we are introduced to a man known only as “The Renter” (MAX VON SYDOW) who is, well, renting a room from Oskar’s grandmother who lives in a building across from his own. With his binoculars and a walkie-talkie, he can talk to her but when she had stepped out, no reason why she was gone during the night, this man answers Oskar’s calls via Morse code from his bedroom window. Not knowing who this older gentleman is, he goes into the apartment where he meets The Renter, a man who has chosen to go mute due to events from the past. After Oskar goes on a 25th Hour-like diatribe, The Renter decides to take this journey with him, finding who and where this key belonged.
The rest of the movie is basically Oskar going on a wild goose chase, lashing out at his mother to the point where he actually states that he wished it was her that died; he also wakes her up with a slap so the obnoxiousness and lividness I had for this kid only grew as the film progressed. This isn’t to say Sandra Bullock as the seemingly inattentive mother was any better. She’s the adult and when this kid lies stating there were no messages on the machine, and the fact there were six from the father in the tower, I can’t blame the kid because the mother could’ve just as easily checked the damn machine herself! Of course, when Oskar sneaks out of the apartment at night and manages to find the exact answering machine and switches it (so he can keep his father’s final messages for himself), was a turning point for me from slight tolerance to complete and extreme hatred.
Having never read the novel the movie is based upon, I can’t comment on how closely it follows or if perhaps the characters were being true to the source material, but in film form, they quickly got on my nerves with illogical and nonsensical decision-making combined with a lack of chemistry with anybody, but especially between Oskar and his father as that’s supposed to be the driving force behind the entire plot, as explained previously.
I also have to quickly mention a nice cameo towards the end by Jeffrey Wright. Not to spoil it too much, but he has something to do with the key and in this major scene and Wright explains his strained relationship with his own father, I could only think, “Why in the hell couldn’t this movie been about him!?!?” I would’ve gladly spent two hours following him around on a journey of exploration than the bratty kid…
I believe I already expressed my opinion on the acting but in fairness to veterans like Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, if everything else remained the same and the movie featured different actors in their roles, I highly doubt it’d be any better. I will also mention Max von Sydow who managed to nab a Best Supporting Actor nod and while I can see why as it is a unique role for somebody without dialogue, I didn’t feel it was anything special. For sure, Sydow gives it his best but there’s so much else wrong that it almost overtakes the good performance.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was helmed by Stephen Daldry, best known for the wonderful drama, Billy Elliot and the overwrought The Hours which at one time I loved but have grown to merely appreciate it for a few performances rather than an overly dramatic/convoluted plot. This film seems to suffer from the same ailments where the drama is so extreme that it’s borderline manipulative including a laughable score by the normally reliable Alexandre Desplat (I particularly enjoyed his score for The Ghost Writer). It doesn’t help matters that the September 11th attacks were used as a mere catalyst and a cheap and horrifying one at that, serving no purpose other than to raise up emotions and further influence audiences into tears for loathsome and irrational characters.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.25/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover.
Making Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (19:47; HD) – This ‘making of’ featurette goes through the same motions like others, getting interviews from the crew and members of the cast talking about how the project got started, the characters, shooting on various locations, etc. It’s nothing special but you get insights into the filmmaking process which at least is interesting to watch. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Finding Oskar (7:50; HD) covers the casting process to find the right young actor to play the central role. Thomas Horn was originally a contestant on “Junior Jeopardy” and had never acted before.
Ten Years Later (11:25; HD) tackles the heavy task of using September 11th, specifically on the 9/11 memorial wall used in one of the scenes. The featurette is actually pretty good focusing on one real person who died on that day and the impact he had on so many people. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Max von Sydow: Dialogues with The Renter (44:00; HD) is a fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed by the son of Max von Sydow that features behind-the-scenes footage of the veteran actor prepping for the role (costumes, hair & make-up) and we get some insight into the man himself. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Also included is a standard definition DVD Copy and an UltraViolet Digital Copy (** Blu-ray Exclusive **).
VIDEO – 4.0/5
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and in 1080p high-definition. Like most of Warner’s recent theatrical to home video releases, this one is also a nice transfer but nothing outstanding or special. Even so, the detail levels are good with some minor amount of film grain that only aids in giving the movie a more theatrical feel. The color array is good and while nothing pops off the screen, it’s nice that the colors weren’t pumped up.
AUDIO – 3.75/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t very dynamic but certainly on par with other dramas where we get clear dialogue coming out of the center channel and ambient noises (like the sounds of the city) making the most out of the front and back speakers. As I said, it’s not a great lossless track but definitely serviceable for the home theater audience.
OVERALL – 2.25/5
Overall, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a film that personally offended me, not so much for its use of 9/11 (albeit it doesn’t sit well) but due to a manipulative script, obnoxious, annoying and illogical characters and some of the poorest on-screen chemistry I’ve seen in a while mainly between Oskar and his father which looked and sounded entirely contrived. As if it matters, but with regards to the Blu-ray, it offers up fine audio and video transfers but the features, once again from Warner, is severely lacking.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.