There’s potential in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Sadly, it’s mostly wasted.
Loud (as it will now be known) tells the story of Oskar Schell, a young boy whose dad, Thomas (played by Tom Hanks) died during 9/11. Thomas had instilled Oskar with a love of mystery, so when Oskar finds a mysterious key in his father’s belongings, he decides to roam New York City to find the lock the key matches. Along the way he deals with his depressed mother and a mysterious man who refuses to speak.
And that should be enough material – Oskar’s last ongoing connection to his dad, coloured by a child’s sense of adventure. We could have Oskar building a fantastical view of New York while using the quest to once again connect with his dad. Unfortunately, Oskar becomes annoying and his adventure fails to make him any more endearing.
Loud asks too much of Thomas Horn’s depiction of Oskar. Our viewpoint is always Oskar’s and he narrates the film. Horn faced no easy task in making Oskar likable for the film’s two-hour running time. Defenders of the film will mention that Oskar may have Asperger’s syndrome, and that’s why some find him irritating. But it wasn’t that, it was that his voice was grating and the film relied too much on him emoting in close-up. Loud cribs a few moments from another 9/11 related film, 25th Hour, in which Oskar angrily narrates over a montage of shots of New York and New Yorkers, some of whom stare into the camera. It was a testament to Ed Norton that he pulled that off so well in 25th Hour. It’s too much to ask of Horn.
I reached a point in the film where Oskar drags a mute Max Von Sydow to a house by the river and I thought You know what, whatever happens here, I couldn’t care in the slightest. I turned against the film hard, sick of those two and their art film-esque adventure. Loud dawdled badly at this point, just when the narrative needed a push.
Some dialogue suggests that the film’s trying too hard to make a point. “I know what time it was because I kept the receipt. It had the time on it”, “He pauses the longest between the third and fourth. 15 seconds. I know because I timed it”. I didn’t need the last sentence in either of those quotes. Some took that as a representative of Oskar’s character, but I saw it as writing that doesn’t trust its audience. Oskar refers to 9/11 as “the worst day”, which seems like an appropriate way for a kid to process those horrible events. But the phrase is used so often as to ruin all subtlety. I again wondered if screenwriter Eric Roth thought we might not pick up on that without repetition. I haven’t read the book, but regardless, this is a different animal, what works on the page differs from what does on screen.
For Oskar, his mission helps him get closer to his dad again, but also he’s getting further away; he’s running to, but also from his father. Along this road he’s reconnects with his mother and finds the grandfather he never knew.
The film has been accused of being tasteless. Many point to the film’s final shot of Tom Hanks being shown as the famous ‘falling man’ who jumped from the World Trade on 9/11. Oskar had noticed in photos that the man was dressed like his father but was never able to clearly identify him. I do think it’s somewhat tasteless to show any actor as that person. But in the context of the film, I didn’t take it as a definite identification of Thomas was that man, but more as Oskar’s acceptance that his dad was gone. Correctly or not, he’s realised his dad was the falling man and has closure, at least as much as he possibly can.