On September 11, 2001, our world changed forever. We all know it. On paper and looking back in 200 years time, it’s a most fascinating story filled with tragedy, triumph, and unity. Buried deep inside the one big story are about 5,000 or so sub-plots of loved ones lost, loved ones found, people not being there that were supposed to be there, and countless other stories that will ring true for centuries to come.
In the film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” directed by Academy Award Nominee Stephen Daldry, we are exposed to a different side of the realm of sorrow and heartache not thought of before. The film tells the story of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year old boy whose father is killed on September 11th and embarks upon a quest to find the lock to a key found in his father’s pocket. Along the way, Oskar meets a variety of characters including the mysterious “renter’ (Max Von Sydow) living in his grandmother’s house.
What Daldry achieves in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” above all else, is capturing the sweet innocence of a child and breaking it down to raw moment number one, while never getting over zealous in the power he possesses. What Thomas Horn delivers as Oskar is by no mistake the greatest child performance of the new century. Horn dives into one of the most complex character’s I’ve seen created for a child and shakes loose. Horn is a gift to the craft and will hopefully capitalize on this role for deeper, more demanding characters. Horn lives the words of screenwriter Eric Roth and lands every line like a symphonic note in a great sixteen-piece orchestra.
The subject matter of the September 11 has been hit and miss over the past ten years in the world of cinema. Only Paul Greengrass’ tear-jerking love letter to the victims of Flight 93 in the film, “United 93” has ever been considered a respectful interpretation and deliverance of the dreadful day. Chalk it up to being British or a non-American but Daldry is second on the shortlist now. Where it’s nowhere near as polarizing as Greengrass’ take, the film never uses the subject matter to tell the story. Daldry uses his craftsmanship and his love of film to drive us through this tale. While the film at instances seem to get away from him using one or two unneeded shots involving the World Trade Center, Daldry holds his own quite well and I respect him for it. Daldry’s greatest strengths in his career is what he is able to get out of his esteemed casts (The Hours, The Reader, Billy Elliot).
Sandra Bullock has fully evolved into a beautiful and demanding actress. Bullock is one of my all-time favorite women working in Hollywood. It’s definitely hasn’t been a smooth ride with choices like “All About Steve” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control” but I’ve stuck by the notion she would deliver on the promise seen of her in the 80’s flick, “Love Potion #9.” Where I feel she has struggled the most is her ability to portray a “matronly” or “maternal” figure accurately and convincingly. I found it difficult to feel that away about her in the Oscar winning role she portrayed in “The Blind Side.” I never felt the maternal connection between her and Michael or even her “biological” son in the movie, S.J.. It never felt authentic. As Linda Schell in Daldry’s film, Bullock finally hits all the right chords and delivers probably one of her finest and sensitive performances in her career. Bullock nails every note, nuance, and depression with utter ease and like a pro. Though not a whole lot of scenes to chew on, Bullock uses every moment and makes it count.
Max Von Sydow as the mute and mysterious “Renter” is perfectly controlled and beautifully executed. As much needed balance to an otherwise heavy, emotional film, Von Sydow uses his most effective tools in his acting arsenal to convey a character that is easily written off as mute but feels like he’s screaming off the paper’s he writes on. It’s an Oscar worthy turn that voters should be recognizing.
Tom Hanks, in his short time with the audience captures the essence of his charisma that used to work for him so well in the 90’s with films like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Forrest Gump.” I’ve missed Tom Hanks at his peak. There’s a hole in Hollywood still for someone to fill that spot once occupied by Hanks as the most dependable and charming actor to grace the screen (And no, it’s not George Clooney). As Thomas Schell, Hanks illuminates the paternal light in all of us and magnifies the power of loss by two. When Oskar loses him, we feel as though we’ve lost him as well. That’s Hanks using his tactics effectively. And don’t sleep on the talented Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright who for seconds punch through the screen and into your theater seat. They show up and they show up well.
A beautifully blended score by Alexandre Desplat evokes the essence of the film and elevates moments into wonderful blips of mastery. Desplat is one of our finest composers hitting the screens film after film. With a great year for this, “The Tree of Life,” “The Ides of March,” “Carnage,” “A Better Life,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” if he doesn’t have a statue by the end of the year, criminal prosecution should be taken on the Academy.
Eric Roth’s screenplay is very resourceful and completely believable is an otherwise un-believable story. He paces the emotional rifts the story entails and doesn’t hit while you’re down. He builds the story, giving us character development, and showcasing the bare bones of a broken family. Daldry’s direction isn’t as prominent as it’s been in his other films but it’s completely acceptable. I don’t feel it’s his place to his own directing style on for show. He lets Roth, Horn, Hanks, Von Sydow, and Bullock develop and evolve the stylistic quality into a masterpiece theater segment. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” bookends in what seems to be the theme of the year, silence in film, and breathes a breath of fresh air into the cinematic souls.