A decade later and 9/11 has become the new “it” thing in Hollywood. Now, much like with homosexuality, movies — particularly late-winter melodramas — dealing with the terrorist attacks have become foolproof investments. As such there was no stopping Stephen Daldry’s latest film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s eponymous novel, which is scribed by Eric Roth. This time, the Billy Elliot director, who’s no stranger to emotional pornography, isn’t out for a tear or two — he’s out for streams of sorrow to flow down each viewer’s face.
Ironically, the way he goes about achieving that is hopelessly counterproductive. The film plays out like one of those commercials made by large corporations where they announce sponsorship to a wildlife foundation or food drive to boost sales. It’s Oscar-mongering at its finest and, at this point, shouldn’t even be considered art.
Nothing excuses how the disaster is reduced to schmaltz. I’m not one for politics (nor sympathy), but as a New Yorker, the story proved tasteless. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows a nine-year-old inventor Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) whose father (Tom Hanks) died in the World Trade Center attacks. Straying from his anguished mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), the boy finds a mysterious key in his dad’s closet, which he suspects might reveal a secret message. Using a series of vague clues, he races around New York City to find the lock it was designed for. Tied up with a pretty little bow, the movie isn’t offensive for its subject matter, but for how it exploits it.
I get where the writers were going by using the 9/11 scenario. It’s an example for a swift, unimaginable event that changes the course of history, but my grip is with the execution. Had the situations not been as contrived, the film could’ve delivered potent dramatics. Nevertheless, you tend to abandon that optimism when being bombarded with stock characters like Abby (Viola Davis) and William Black (Jeffrey Wright), a struggling couple who find solace in Oskar’s journey, and “The Renter” (Max von Sydow), a mute (by choice) who accompanies the boy.
Coincidentally, Sydow is the production’s saving grace. Whilst I didn’t find the character’s backstory too memorable (nor very original), the actor lends the best performance in the film. When his work gets sappy, it’s easy to forgive, simply because, unlike Horn, he doesn’t have obnoxious outbursts that make you want to strangle him, and he does something other than cry profusely — the highlight of Bullock’s one-note acting. And it goes without saying that Hanks plays the same nice guy he’s made a career out of.
About the only things I’ve learned from Roth’s screenplay is that, if you want to maintain your sanity, keep your child happy — the depressed ones are a pain. Keeping with the theme of ideal parenting, it’s also perfectly acceptable to let a nine-year-old wander the streets for days on end.
Sarcasm aside, the last nail in the coffin is the shamelessly poor direction. With sophomoric montages and melancholic music, it’s as if Daldry has reverted back to helming student films. But there’s no denying that he’s not an amateur, however, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn’t up the standard that any award-winning director should deliver on.