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'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close' Starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock Misses the Mark

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About six months ago, the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was on many of critics' short best list, one guaranteed to cause a stir come awards time. It marks the film return of Sandra Bullock after her best actress Oscar award, the direction of academy award winning Steven extremely loud and incredibly closeDaldry (The Hours, The Reader) and award winning writer Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)

You may have noticed the movie has made zero impact on any award shows. Perhaps that’s because, even with all of that massive talent on display, Extremely Loud is still a terribly misguided project. Multiple times I shook my head and the screen and threw my hands in the air in disbelief. There was great potential here, but the film misses the mark overall.

Based on the highly popular book by the same name, Extremely Loud follows the story of young Oskar (Horn), a boy who is grieving from the loss of his father Thomas (Tom Hanks). This would be traumatic enough, but the scenario is magnified by the fact that the boy lost his dad on what he terms “the worst day”- 9/11.

Following the funeral we are introduced to Oskar’s mom Linda briefly (a sedated Bullock) and also his plucky grandmother (Zoe Caldwell). A further glimpse into his daily activities shows that the boy is having a very hard time letting go of his father, intentionally bruising himself and constantly plagued by memories of the fateful day; moments shown in a series of harrowing flashbacks.

This leads our protagonist to enter Thomas’s bedroom one day to perhaps grasp onto some more memories before they fade into the past. While there, he knocks over a vase, which shatters to reveal a small key.

Convinced that the key was left purposely by his father for Oskar to discover, he sets out on an impossible quest to find the lock for this magic piece of metal. The idea of a treasure hunt seems plausible, given that the two exchanged in such adventures when Thomas was still alive.

Feeling it is his duty to solve the mystery, Oscar creates an expedition spanning the five massive boroughs of the city.

 

The biggest problem with Extremely Loud is it’s exploitive nature. Allegedly artful shots of bodies falling through the air and queasy re-enactments of that fateful day (complete with CGI burning towers) come off quite wrong. Was there really a reason to build this story around that universal tragedy? If there was, such a sentimental overly manipulative tale hardly finds the means to justify it.

The second biggest problem is Roth’s script, which, in addition to aforementioned issues, devises a story that isn’t up to par and doesn’t flow correctly. Oskar’s journey feels quite endless, and there are long patches of what feels like unnecessary material. For example, a subplot with a mute neighbor who assists him in his journey (Max von Sydow) is well meaning but wears out it’s welcome fast. His ending is also one of syrupy overload.

That said there are a few very strong positives here.  Thomas Horn, allegedly discovered on an episode of Jeopardy last year, has never had a lick of acting experience. Well, you’d never know it from his raw, highly charged tornado of a performance. The movie doesn’t match his talent, but the kid has it, plain and simple. He’s a wonder to watch. A very limited Bullock, who definitively shines whenever she is onscreen, equally matches him. A painful sequence in which Horn and Bullock get into a screaming match over that fateful day will likely leave the audience without a dry eye to be found.

As Extremely Loud builds to what hopes to be a profound climax, the answer to the mystery, while sufficient, is quickly bypassed for a shockingly ridiculous epilogue. Let’s just say it stretches any and all plausibility and also manages to feature the most offensive use of a children’s pop-up book I’ve ever seen. The result leaves a bitter aftertaste. This is a highly polished effort that just doesn’t reach the heights of the talent involved.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Check out Jim's Review of 'Mission Impossible' and 'Sherlock Holmes'

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Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers