Dir. Stephen Daldry
2 out of 5
I will spare the ‘Extremely X and Incredibly Y’ puns that litter reviews of director Stephen Daldry’s latest literary adaptation, though there are several floating around that are bitingly apt. The filmmaker’s first feature since 2008’s The Reader, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close raised eyebrows upon its inclusion among the Best Picture nominations at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s easy to see why. The cumbersome mouthful of a title sets the tone for an irksome movie of astounding contrivance, which fails to do any sort of justice to its hefty subject matter.
Extremely Loud is ostensibly a film about coping with loss, a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ tale refracted through the prism of a child still reeling from the trauma of September 11th 2001. In actuality, it is a paradigm of self-indulgent quirkiness, forced sentimentality and astonishingly neglectful parenting. A year after the death of his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, young protagonist Oskar (newcomer Thomas Horn) finds an envelope bearing the inscription ‘Black’ and containing a small key, in his parents’ wardrobe. Having spent his childhood completing the elaborate scavenger hunts created by his late father, a gregarious Tom Hanks, Oskar takes the key to be the first clue in a final, city-spanning mystery, and sets about tracking down the lock to which it belongs.
Naturally this involves roaming unaccompanied across New York’s five boroughs in order to speak to every person named Black in the city, a bizarre task that is complicated by the deterioration of Oskar’s relationship with his mother, played by an exceptionally weepy Sandra Bullock, and the appearance of an avuncular, mute old man who offers to assist the youngster in his outlandish quest. Though this role is filled expressively by the wonderful Max von Sydow, his communication via pen and notepad quickly becomes wearing, as does Oskar’s ‘therapeutic’ shaking of a tambourine in his moments of anxiety – of which there are many.
Details such as this help prevent the movie from hitting its intended emotional mark. It attempts to push the same buttons as Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse, a film that plucked its audience’s heartstrings with consummate skill, however Extremely Loud continually fumbles, poking and prodding its viewer, or perhaps beating them over the head with a tambourine. The resulting film, far from addressing the grief, the pain and the anger that still hang over the events of 9/11, actually ends up trivialising these issues, the gravity of the attacks smothered by a hollow mawkishness that reeks of Oscar-bait.
There are more fundamental problems too, such as Horn’s Oskar being tiresome, irritating and plainly unlikeable. His hyper-intelligence and social difficulties suggest he suffers from Asperger’s (a notion raised and typically evaded), but he lacks the charisma that made Jesse Eisenberg’s similarly disagreeable Mark Zuckerberg so compelling. There are a few moments of poignancy, such as Hanks’ fraught voicemails left from inside the crumbling World Trade Centre, but they’re unfortunately buried amid the maudlin excess.
In an awards season currently celebrating the finest of all things cinema, Daldry’s picture is made to look even weaker by the quality of its company. It certainly makes a lot of noise, but Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’s shallow take on such a raw, rich and dense subject can’t help but leave its audience cold and distant.