I’d like to propose three requirements for every film that wishes to use 9.11 as a plot device. Fail even one of these, and you owe it to yourself and your audience to choose something else to base your movie on, because you’re risking exploitation:
1) Strike an even tone that balances personal experiences with the broader story. Find a way to connect the protagonists’ stories to ours; too private and you make 9.11 incidental, too public and you may as well make a documentary. This is the least egregious one.
2) Make it more than just “your character’s loved one died that day.” If you’re unlucky enough to have seen Robert Pattinson in Remember Me, you’ll remember the incredibly selfish and opportunistic twist ending. The movie didn’t include that character as one of the thousands, they reduced the thousands to one person. This is the cheapest one.
And most importantly, and most unforgivable if you screw it up—
3) Make sure it needs to be about 9.11.
Ask yourself, will any other tragedy work? If you’re trying to illustrate the undeserved nature of a person’s death, could that same person die of a disease or a car accident or anything more meaningful to that specific person? Or are you just going for maximum sadness points, toying with a public that has still not found catharsis 10 years on?
Which brings us to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the story of 11-year-old Oskar Schell, a precocious and often relentlessly curious boy (possibly due to Aspergers, it says in the film) who seeks the truth behind a key found in the closet of his father (Tom Hanks), one year after his death on 9.11. His search takes him all around New York, where he meets strangers who in turn share their individual stories of that day as they try to help him.
The places where Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close works are exactly where it doesn’t intend to.
The scenes that portray the events of 9.11 directly are rather involving and moving, but only because it’s the first film to accurately reenact the tension and confusion of that day. But all this is lost once it returns to the main plot. It’s as though they only exist to make us care more about the characters.
At best, this makes the film uneven, and at worst it’s a deceptive gimmick.
The only truly sympathetic and realistic character is Max von Sydow’s. Though his muteness is played as “precious,” a word that is never good in a film review, he seems to be the only one who lived an actual life before 9.11.
As an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, it would have been better as either a direct interpretation or complete overhaul. While Director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader) wisely disposes of the cutesy eccentricities of the narrative (flipbooks, clippings, etc.) for a more conventional style, without those trappings Oskar feels that much more artificial—despite newcomer Thomas Horn’s commendable efforts. Daldry obviously wanted to use him as a cipher, representing everyone’s inability to make sense of 9.11 by showing it through the eyes of a detail-obsessed child, but after the fine performances and gripping reenactments are over—the dust, as it were, is settled—
the whole affair just feels manipulative and distasteful.
EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE
OPENS | 1.20.12
RATED | PG-13