A superb blend of tears and comedy
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Director: Stephen Daldry
Screenwriter: Eric Roth, from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel
Cast: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Thomas Horn
Screened at: The Lighthouse, NYC, 12/10/11
Opens: December 25, 2011
Historians of cinema may well note that Thomas Horn's role in Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is among the most assured debut performances of a child actor ever. Horn, just thirteen years of age and obviously a prodigy had been seen on Teen Jeopardy. He not only anchors the film but appears in virtually every scene as a nine-year-old lad burning with the ambition to fulfill a mission of his own choosing. Though the subject matter--a boy's search for a lock that fits a key left by his father who had perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11--is an occasion to break out the Kleenex, the movie is peppered by comic touches throughout and, best of all, by a host of stunning scene-chewing by the supportive ensemble.
Daldry takes time to convince us in the audience of the close relationship enjoyed by Oskar (Thomas Horn) and his dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks), with Thomas conjuring up an assortment of games to challenge his son's intellect. A jeweler who had wanted to be a scientist, Thomas settled into his choice as lapidarian in order to support his family, consisting of himself, his wife (Sandra Bullock), and his only son.
A road-and-buddies movie, if you will, "Extremely Loud" takes full advantage of the world's most exciting city when Oskar, finding the mysterious key inside a blue vase and thinking that his dad meant for him to exploit it, travels the five boroughs of New York City to find the one person named Black, as that is the name he finds on a sheet of paper left by his dad. His aim, which he figures could take him three years, is to meet and consult with 472 folks in the phone book named Black to find the one with the lock that the key can fit. (Never mind that hundreds of "Blacks" may have unpublished numbers.)
Oskar carries a tambourine as his security blanket wherever he travels, picking up an elderly man known as The Renter (Max von Sydow), living in a separate apartment with his grandma (Zoe Caldwell), a fellow who had been traumatized by the bombing in his home town of Dresden and has since been unable to speak. Like marathoners traversing the city limits in slow motion, the two become buddies as inseparable as Oskar had been with his dad.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" features extraordinarily rich acting by von Sydow (who shuffles along, trying to keep up with a lad who could be his grandson), by Jeffrey Wright (who is most familiar with the significance of the key), by Viola Davis (a Black who befriends the boy and delivers him to her ex-husband) and Sandra Bullock (who proves to be as adept in a serious role as she is in comic takes). Given a recent case in New York in which a young boy on his own was kidnapped, killed and dismembered, Daldry makes sure to let us know that the kid was not really alone any part of the way.
This performance by a thirteen-year-old is strong enough to distract us from looking at Tom Hanks as the dean of American acting. Our focus is on the boy all the way. While many parts of Foer's novel from which the film is adapted could not be included--such as the way Oskar deals with a recording of a Hiroshima survivor--readers who are cineastes as well will probably find that this story of loss and recovery does justice to Foer's novel.
Rated PG-13. 129 minutes (c) 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online