Tonight’s movie is one of those films that was very difficult to watch. It’s powerful and emotional and stars a couple Hollywood A-Listers, and all of those other things that seems to put a film into the Best Picture category in the Oscars.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a 2011 nominee for Best Picture, and I can’t figure out why except that it was those things I listed. It wasn’t really well-written. I don’t think it was really well acted by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock–heck, Max von Sydow, playing the hidden grandfather who doesn’t speak (I’ll explain later) had a more powerful role and showed better acting. But it is dealing in uncomfortable and powerful territory.
Oskar is a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. His father, a New York jeweler, was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Oskar, as with any child of a victim, and even more so as someone with his diagnosis, has a difficult time dealing with his father’s death, especially considering he was closer to his father.
Part of their time together was spent sending Oskar on expeditions to get out into the world–out into New York City–to discover things, find things his father planted using clues he was given, and to experience and adapt to the busy, loud world around him.
So when Oskar discovers a key in an envelope hidden in a vase hidden in his father’s things in a closet, Oskar decides it’s one last quest that his father has sent him on: to find what the key opens. The kid goes on a very rational and well-ordered search, sure that he would find some last piece of his father to hold on to once he found what the key opened.
Except that doing expeditions in the city now are extremely difficult: planes scare him, public transit scares him, noises scare him, elevators scare him, and angry people scare him. During his search, though, he meets a lot of people along the way, discovers the joys and frustrating realities of life, and figures out that the “renter” living in a room in his grandmother’s apartment across the street is actually his grandfather.
In the end, it’s a somewhat uplifting story, as we discover that he and his mother have been on the same quest. And in the process, the two of them have unexpectedly grown closer thanks to their shared loss.
There’s nothing about this film that really stands out, except for the subject matter and really stressful light it casts the story in. The boy is played very well by a young actor, and you really do start to feel his anxiety in dealing with the world and the untold secrets he has about what he knows about his father’s death.
And Max von Sydow is brilliant as the strange, mute “renter” living with Oskar’s grandmother. He hasn’t spoken since he was young, having faced his own trauma, and instead communicates with Oskar through either notes in a pad, or with the “yes” and “no” tattoos on his palms. Since he can’t speak, von Sydow’s character has to communicate all of his feelings through facial expressions, sighs, and even the increasingly frustrated handwriting in the notes to Oskar.
But as I said before, everything else is just flat. Tom Hanks’ character is just a series of flashbacks, and almost caricatures at that. And Sandra Bullock’s grieving wife is almost over-the-top in terms of her detachment for almost the entire movie.
And the start of the movie is slow. I mean, really slow. So much so that I stopped watching 40 minutes in because it was going nowhere, and just came back to it tonight to see if it got any better. Strangely enough, it was just a few minutes after that 40 minute mark that it really took off.
I’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for taking on a really difficult and tender topic. And I applaud them for trying to approach it from a different and unexpected direction. But I think there was more they could have done with this to make it fell less flat: better cinematography, or a more brisk pace, or something.
It’s a good film, and I’m giving it three out of five stars but there’s nothing about it that I saw that makes it a great or potentially award-winning film.
See you tomorrow.