So closely thought out, it’s almost contrived

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is very intentional in trying to involve your emotions. If you are a moviegoer who enjoys having your heartstring plucked like a bluegrass banjo, this is the kind of movie you will be gushing over this while drinking double mocha non-fat cappuccinos with your friends.

Stephen Daldry is no stranger to directing movies of young men who lose someone important to them (Billy Elliot, The Reader) while the world around them changes dramatically. In this case, Oskar (Horn) loses his father to the terrorist bombings of 9/11. The story basically begins one year later.

Before continuing, it’s important to know a little about Asperger’s syndrome (a kind of autism) before you go and see this movie. The disorder manifests itself among others as difficulties in social interaction and obsession-compulsion. The main character of Oskar may or may not have Aspergers, but definitely has a mild form of autism, which is shown throughout the movie. For example, Oskar’s father constantly devises tasks and quests to give him something to do and force him to talk to other people. This is why he can come across as rather annoying on screen – and therefore a brilliant representation by the young Thomas Horn. In this light, he’s no longer just an obnoxious movie kid, but someone whose obnoxiousness and desperation – his very disorder – are crying out for order.

As mentioned, it is one year after the attacks when Oskar finally goes into his father’s closet (that his grieving mother still has not cleaned out) and discovers a key in an envelope that simply says Black on it. Oskar makes a list of all 472 New York residents with the surname Black and visits them one by one, in the hope that this will eventually lead him to the corresponding lock. His mission to find the lock for that key becomes both a way to connect to his father and to soothe his obsession-compulsion.

He is joined on his quest by a man simply known as the Renter (von Sydow), an older gentleman that boards with his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) while his mother (Bullock) remains worlds apart from Oskar seemingly unable to connect with him. And while Oskar carries with him the burden of many secrets, as it happens, so does everyone else around him, including his mother, grandmother and the Renter. As each character reveals these secrets, it is like they have found the keys to their own locks, allowing them to move closer to each other and society.

While the adults are good, von Sydow garnered an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the non-speaking Renter. It’s the more than capable Horn that takes centre-stage. His character is a difficult one to play. He is not overly likeable, in fact can be downright annoying, but he simply does not know any other way to be. However, no matter how grating his character can be, you can’t helpbeing swept along with his incessant narration and roaming adventures.

It’s important to note that the film is not really about 9/11 – it’s about the aftermath of those left and how they deal with the loss of someone because of it. If nothing else, Daldry has undoubtedly delivered an exciting prospect in Thomas Horn and given Max von Sydow at least one more poignant role to add to his stunning collection.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Dir: Stephen Daldry;

US drama, 2011, 129 mins;

Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn
Premiered March 1
Playing nationwide

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