Movie review: ‘Extremely Loud …’ moving or manipulative?
You’d have to be a hard-hearted, unrepentant cynic not to be at least initially moved by the soul-wrenching tragedy at the core of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”
And yet, even through the tears you can’t help but feel the heartstrings being plucked and see the dolorous poignancy being ladled out in big dollops as director Stephen Daldry skillfully and deliberately adapts Jonathan Safran Foer’s controversial 9/11 aftermath novel to the screen.
The contentious 2005 novel – roundly drubbed as cloying, sentimental and shamelessly exploitative by heavyweight critics ranging from John Updike to the New York Times – charted a delicate, diligent spirit quest across New York’s five boroughs by an achingly precocious young boy named Oskar Schell (gifted newcomer Thomas Horn) as he struggles to come to grips with the death of his beloved father (Tom Hanks) in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11.
Oskar is a singular literary invention, preternaturally bright, painfully articulate, inquisitive, eccentric and perhaps suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. A social misfit and a – some would say charming, some annoying – bundle of neuroses, phobias and curious theories on mankind, he is a sort of Holden Caulfield for the post-9/11 era, maddening and endearing at the same time.
In flashback – before what Oskar refers to as “the worst day” – we see this obviously special but delicate boy in full bonding with his clever, nurturing father, Thomas, a jeweler with a Swiss-watch mind and a penchant for constructing intricate games and puzzles to challenge his restless son. On the sidelines of this intense father-son relationship is patient wife and mother Linda (Sandra Bullock, biding her time in a slow-boiling role).
In the horrific days, weeks and months after the terrorist attack, the story focuses on Oskar’s determined mourning, his deep guilt (over desperate phone messages left by his father but kept from his mother) and his obsessive need to make some cosmic sense of his loss.
To that end, Oskar doggedly pursues the mystery of a key found among his father’s possessions. Tucked in an envelope marked with the word “Black,” the boy deduces that it unlocks a connection to someone from his father’s past. So he compiles a list of 472 Blacks from the city phone books and sets off on foot (he’s afraid of subways), rattling his therapy tambourine, to contact each name on the list and find out the mystery of the key.
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