Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Instead of being thoughtful dramas, recent 9/11 based movies seem to have become fodder for spawning drinking games. With World Trade Center one needs to take a shot every time Nicolas Cage hams; with Crash one does the same for every over the top racial jargon; and as for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, one gulps one down with every plot contrivance. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is insipid and forgettable, instead of tugging your heartstrings it bores you to tears. The film plays as if director Stephen Daldry decided to film every scene in order to fill time, patching all the contrivances together with a tiresome ‘It is based on a real incident’ routine. He pads the entire film with all the self-importance of his previous movie The Reader and fails to justify the far-fetched, schmaltzy and unsatisfying climax.

Setting up an internal conflict of a child character’s feelings, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an inelegant adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name wants to be a feel-good tragedy, but ends up being a tragic mess. A nine year old boy’s (Thomas Horn) father (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Soon after, the kid finds a mysterious key in his dad’s cupboard that is addressed to an unknown person named Black. He lies to his mother (Sandra Bullock) and bunks school to set off on a mission to search for Black, as he struggles to cope with his dad’s death and find closure. 

The problem is that Oskar the kid is one of the most unlikable and unbelievable characters to have graced cinema screens. He is just nine years old and he roams comfortably around New York City. He doesn’t like his mother and hides his father’s final telephone message from her. He is extremely rude to the building doorman, counts lies and contacts strangers all over the city. How can one empathize with this kid? It doesn’t help that Thomas Horn, who plays Oskar drones along his narration to the point of annoyance. And most of the dialogue verges between strained and bland. 

The film's awkward references to death, grief and hope never quite cohere. The film takes itself far too seriously without ever taking a moment to consider who its audience is. Some viewers who have faced personal losses might connect with this movie and its unrealism, but the usage of 9/11 here not only contributes nothing to the story, but even takes away for it. The overall tediousness of the movie and the wastage of Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Max von Sydow are complimented by the visual elegance of New York City. In fact the city ends up being more interesting than the story or characters – it’s a shame that we don’t see more of it. What we do get is more of stuff that’s extremely humbug and incredibly hokey.

(First published in MiD Day)

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