DIR: Stephen Daldry • WRI: Eric Roth • PRO: Scott Rudin • DOP: Chris Menges • ED: Claire Simpson • DES: K.K. Barrett • Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow
A film like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is going to be marmite – people will either love it and defend it from its detractors or others will see it as a callous, shallow attempt to pull at emotions in order to elicit a response. It’s very difficult to draw a line between one or the other with this film. On the one hand, it’s a poignant story of dealing with loss and making sense of a harrowing experience. On the other, it’s an annoying, saccharine-ridden heap that feels like it’s playing on people’s experiences and weaknesses. It entirely depends on the viewer and their own prejudices and cynicism.

The story centres around Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn), a young Jewish boy from New York who is in mourning over the death of his father, played by Tom Hanks. Set one year after September 11, he stumbles upon a key in his father’s closet that he believes to hold significance for him. He sets about meticulously planning and conducting a search of the city in an attempt to find what the key fits and, in doing so, how all New York has dealt with the atrocity. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters – including Max von Sydow in, arguably, the best role he’s taken on in the past ten years. Playing Oskar’s mother is Sandra Bullock in a very reined-in performance, the same goes for Viola Davis who plays one of the people Oskar interviews about the key. Eric Roth, the screenwriter, is no stranger to mawkish and over-sentimental works – just watch The Postman or, to some degree, Forrest Gump. Again, of course, this is down to the viewer and their own cynicism levels. Some may find Schell’s monologues about the trauma of that day heart-rending and genuinely upsetting. Others may see it as bare-faced blackmailing of emotions.

Stephen Daldry’s direction is assured and polished and he is able to convey just how much New York was affected by the events. He also works well with both Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow. The relationship between the two is heartwarming, but again, it does take some very sharp turns into cliched-ridden messiness. Thankfully, von Sydow’s performance is strong enough that even when the young Schell isn’t particularly delivering in a scene, his gravitas more than makes up for it. It says a lot about an actor like Max von Sydow that he can portray any number of emotions with a single glance or look. Time and age has given him a stillness that can’t be trained and imitated – it is his experience that comes to the front in this film. Likewise, Tom Hanks is able to take an extended cameo and make it seem believable that a child would that adversely affected by his loss. It’s tough to place an entire film on the shoulders of an untested actor, particularly a child actor. The entire film rests on their performance and whether or not you buy it. With Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, it’s a mixed bag. You do empathise with Horn’s character, however some of the voice-over monologues are particularly grating and it does almost feel exploitative. It is an unashamed tearjerker, but it does feel like it’s trying to be more than what it is – almost as if it’s saying that America should have gotten over it by now, the same way this child did. People deal with grief in very different ways – it isn’t always so Oprah Winfrey / Dr.Phil as this, unfortunately.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 12A 
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is released on 17th February 2012


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