Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Movie Review

I have to be honest, I wasn't all that interested in seeing this.  I still think it's a too soon to use 9/11 as a device in a movie.  I think it's a cheap way to give a movie more emotional weight that it didn't earn.

I think I'm still burned by Remember Me, which actually attempted to throw 9/11 into the movie at the last minute as a twist, when it had NOTHING to do with the movie up until that point.  It was one of the most insulting things I've ever seen done in a film.  Fortunately, in this film it's use of 9/11 isn't as clumsy.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows the story of Oskar (tell me you aren't Oscar-baiting when the main character is named Oskar), a bright, but socially awkward kid.  At one point they even mention that they tested him for Asperger's, but the results were inconclusive.  You can see that there's just something a little different about him.  Oskar and his dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks), play games that are designed to push Oskar to think creatively and force him to interact with people (something he's not very good at).  As you've seen in the trailer, Thomas dies in 9/11.  This is done at the beginning of the film, so most of the scenes with Tom Hanks are in flashbacks.

Anyway, after Thomas dies, they are understandably having a hard time dealing with it.  One of the main issues for Oskar is that as his dad's death can't really be explained in a way that Oskar can understand.  He needs to it to make sense somehow.  His mother (Sandra Bullock) is trying to help him and connect with him, but it's clear he's rather her not be around.

When searching through his dad's stuff one day, Oskar finds an old key in an envelope that's only labeled with the word 'Black'.  He decides to find out what this key belongs to.  He assumes the word 'Black' is a name and systematically decides to contact all 400+ people in the phone book with the last name of Black.  He's hoping this last mystery will either help him explain his father's death or give him some kind of closure.  This aspect of the movie reminded me of Hugo.  With Hugo you also have a kid dealing with the untimely death of his father and trying to complete a final project in the hopes it will bring him closer to his dad or answer questions.

Along the way, he's joined by the mysterious 'Renter' (Max von Sydow), who comes along with him for much of his journey.  The Renter does not speak because of events that happened in his past and communicates only through scribbling on a notepad.

As you'd guess, it is a very emotional movie.  I didn't find it to be as manipulative as I thought it was going to be though.  Having said that, I still didn't think the use of 9/11 was necessary.  Why does Tom Hanks have to die in 9/11?  Why couldn't it have just been a robbery or a drunk driver?  When they show the flashbacks of 9/11 related stuff, it was just uncomfortable to me.  I think they could have told the same story without using 9/11 and I think it actually would have been better.

What saves the movie are the performances.  Thomas Horn as Oskar is fantastic here.  It's a very believable and mature performance.  I think sometimes his character came off as abrasive, but I think that's more due to the nature of the character, not the performance or actor.

Sandra Bullock also gives one of her better performances and I think I identified with her character the most.  Tom Hanks is good as always.  Is it possible to not like Tom Hanks though?  I don't really think so.

Max von Sydow was great!  Talk about acting without saying anything.  I wasn't surprised to see him get nominated for Best Supporting Actor earlier this week.  I guess 'silent' is the theme for this year's awards.

My only real complaint about the movie, besides the 9/11 thing, is that it's a little long.  It's over two hours long and I think it could have been tightened up a bit.

It's based off the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer.  Apparently, the book received mixed reviews as well as this movie.  The 9/11 element is in the original book and appears to be the primary reason for the negative reviews, so I can't blame the movie for using it.. I just wish they had changed it and gone with a slightly different approach.  The screenwriter, Eric Roth, has written many other good movies and the director Stephen Daldry has directed better movies, but I think they couldn't completely overcome the source material.

I have to say I think I liked this more than the average critic did.  I guess I didn't find it as pretentious and contrived as others.  I'll even admit that I got a little weepy towards the end.  Family dramas tend to do that to me.  I will, however, say that I do not think it deserved it's Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  There are many, many much better movies that were more deserving in 2011.

It's tough for me to recommend Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, because I think most people will be affected emotionally by it.  It's like saying, "Go see it if you want to cry."  At the time time, I can see how people might feel this movie was forced and manipulative.  I do think it's suitable for almost everyone though and the performances do make it worth watching.  If you do go see it, bring Kleenex.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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