Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the story Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a young American boy who lost his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attacks. Trying to cope with the passing of his father, Oskar, who happens to be a very inquisitive boy, tries to make sense of the world. Feeling disconnected with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), Oskar sets on a quest across New York City to find one last clue that his father might have left him in a blue vase, which he finds among a stach of things he collected of his father, including his father’s last phone messages on an answering machine he never shared with his mother. The last “hint” is one involving a key and the last name Black, to which he will spring up one last quest involving 472 people with the last name Black in NYC, hoping he’d find the lock which fit the key.
As the movie opens, Oskar, who’s implied to have Asperger’s, says: “If the sun were to blow up, we would still have light and warmth for eight minutes; I feel like my eight minutes with my father are running out.” Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is Oskar’s quest to cling to those eight minutes as long as he could.
Many have called this movie trite and over-indulgent. I disagree. My main problem with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was not the subject matter, which you cannot but appreciate, but it was that the main character, Oskar, is more often than not grating, making it difficult for many to relate to his struggles especially when at a moment he snaps at his mother, telling her he wishes it was her in that tower instead, simply because she couldn’t explain why his father had died. It might be how the character was written but Oskar isn’t likeable at most of the movie’s run. There are moments, though, when he’s at his most vulnerable that his child-self shines through. It is then that you appreciate the performance by Thomas Horn, who does a good job, despite his character’s flaws.
Sandra Bullock is great and saddening as the mother trying to protect her son while receiving his bashing for things out of her control. She provides much realism to the movie. Tom Hanks, in the little screen time he gets, embodies the role of the caring dad trying to break his son out of his shell and into the world through little quests in search of ordinary things sparsed throughout New York City, requiring his son to interact with people.
While on his quest, Oskar will cross paths with an old mute man renting at his grandmother’s place. This old man (Max Von Sydow), whose name is never revealed, will help Oskar on his quest by helping him rise above his fear of ordinary things such as trains and shabby-looking bridges. In doing so, Max Von Sydow gives a great performance without uttering a single word.
In a way, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not really about 9/11 as it is about coping with death. It focuses less on the American tragedy of a country and more on the tragedy of the Schell family. Its main shortcoming is in the fact that with trying to aim for universality, it comes off short from hitting the mark within its niche. Some of the movie’s sequences seem forced. Some are even out of context and irrelevant to the overall flow. In a way the whole sequence with the old man could be removed without affecting the storyline one bit. The movie is not seamless. It feels rickety at points. And that’s a shame because it could have been so much more.