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‘Extremely Loud’ is incredibly maudlin

Article Published: Jan. 26, 2012 | Modified: Feb. 9, 2012
‘Extremely Loud’ is incredibly maudlin

Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow star in ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.’

Is it still “too soon?”

The events of 9/11 are forever engrained in our collective memory, whether we witnessed them in person, on television or through the Internet.

A simple photograph of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers can evoke a cascade of emotion that dwells in our post-9/11 psyche.

When it comes to exploiting that emotion, it’s always too soon.

The new drama, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” is guilty as charged, but it’s not to be blamed on the subject matter. With writer Eric Roth’s (“Forrest Gump”) adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, director Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”) has crafted a high-gravity, maudlin picture, effectively engineered to jerk tears from viewers’ eyes.

The horrific events of 9/11 are a key component, which raises a question. If the film featured a fictitious tragedy, relying on character attachment and narrative alone, would it have the same effect?

That’s up to viewers to decide, but I’m going with “no.”

Newcomer Thomas Horn plays troubled 9-year-old Oskar Schell, an otherwise thoughtful but rather complex little boy whose father (Tom Hanks, “Saving Private Ryan”) is killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

Oskar copes by way of a game they used to play, a scavenger hunt in which he searches New York City for clues to a puzzle of his dad’s design. Halted by what Oskar refers to as “The Worst Day,” the game resumes when he discovers a mysterious key in his father’s closet. The key is sealed in an envelope labeled “Black,” which he sees not only as a clue, but a chance to remain close to his father.

Deducing that “Black” is a surname, Oskar proceeds to identify every “Black” in New York’s five boroughs and pay them a personal visit, hopefully finding the lock that fits the key.

While methodical, Oskar’s quest is anything but smooth. Terrified of closed spaces, he refuses to ride the subway, instead footing it throughout the entire Big Apple, all while clutching a tambourine that manages to calm his nerves.

In the process, he further alienates his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”), but finds a new friend in an elderly, mute man known only as “The Renter” (Max von Sydow, “The Seventh Seal”).

Oskar struggles to make sense of his loss, but, with each encounter, learns that everyone has been affected by some form of loss in one way or another.

The story is sound, and there’s a good movie hidden in there somewhere, but Daldry just can’t piece together the puzzle, part of it being Oskar.

As portrayed by Horn and written by Roth, the character is just too much. Obviously intended to be precocious and understandably eccentric, Oskar instead comes off as neurotic and irritating. His rapid-fire narration feels forced and overbearing, casting a similar feeling upon the film as a whole.

Meanwhile, Daldry bombards his audience with a handful of disturbing motifs, namely a man falling in slow motion from the Twin Towers and a flock of sheet paper from wrecked offices scattering throughout the bright blue sky.

It’s all too much and all too contrived in the film’s context. A scene in which von Sydow’s Renter writes a note, reading “Stop! No more!” hits the nail on the head.

Not surprisingly, Von Sydow is one of the film’s saving graces. In a completely silent performance, the veteran actor coveys more thought and feeling in a single teary gaze than all of Oskar’s incessant ramblings.

The supporting cast is strong, but, von Sydow aside, comes up incredibly short on screen time. Hanks’ appearance is just that, while Bullock and her genuinely moving performance are relegated to only a few scenes.

In that respect, Daldry has achieved an uncommon feat – making a film that’s too much with too little.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 12-B or visit

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