People always seem to say that the book is better than the movie, but sometimes what needs to be said is that the book probably shouldn’t have been a movie. I think that’s the case with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the new film based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close centers upon nine year-old Oskar Schell’s (Thomas Horn) quest to discover the purpose of a key he found in his father’s (Tom Hanks) closet a year after his death in the World Trade Center on September 11th. His only clues are that the key belongs to a lock belonging to someone with the name Black and that he’s certain the search will help him feel connected to his father. At least at first. Oskar’s quest takes him all over New York City and into the homes of hundreds of people with the last name Black. While he can’t seem to find the right Black, what he does find is that each person has some story of loss, pain, or longing to share with him. Meanwhile, a mysterious, silent man (Max von Sydow) renting a room from Oskar’s grandmother joins him on the quest and Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock) struggles with fears that her son is drifting away from her amidst all the grief.
As a novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close features different voices and types of narrative woven around each other to create an engaging, intricate text with a distinct voice. As a film adaptation, however, the many parts fall flat and the story feels over-narrated through excessive use of voiceover. While the film does depict Oskar feeling overwhelmed in interesting, vivid ways, other scenes are awfully staged or acted so that the moments that feel honest are drowned out by triteness.
In other ways, the film just tortures the audience and its characters. Oskar is undoubtedly an intelligent, complicated child. In the book, his curiosity and precociousness are tempered by a sense of honest wonder. In the film, Oskar is bitter and insensitive as he lashes out against his mother, the Renter, and others, in scenes that look lifted from a psychological thriller. The film makes you want to kick him in the shins, and then you feel like an awful person. There’s having a character get under your skin and then there’s Oskar Shell in this film. Given how many voiceovers the character has, he should have been at least slightly relatable. The many people he meets on his journey are far more compelling but the story never stays with them for long.
As Oskar, Thomas Horn certainly gives a good performance in what was a demanding role. His physicality works really well for an overwhelmed, intense nine year-old. He moves quickly through the city in a way that clearly depicts Oskar’s anxiety and determination. Sometimes his delivery is a bit too cold, but I think the character’s flaws are more the product of the screenplay than bad acting. As Thomas and Linda Schell, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock give okay performances, but nothing really interesting or extraordinary. Max von Syndow gives an intriguing performance, as his character never actually speaks. It is impressive to see an actor portray his character strictly through facial expressions and body language.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was somehow nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. I honestly cannot see why. I sincerely hope that September 11th does not become the new ticket to a nomination in this category. While the events of what Oskar calls “the worst day” are portrayed in a terribly interesting way, showing how loud and confusing a day it must have been, that alone does not warrant an Oscar. 2/5 stars.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was written by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry. It runs 129 minutes and is rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.