Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Review
Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Painful
I am going to start this review with a lesson from my upcoming book “How to Make Movies that Don’t Suck”. The lesson is this: no matter how good the story, acting, direction, filming, or editing is, if you make the movie about 9-11 then the biggest American tragedy of the 21st century is going to overwhelm the story and plot in a depressing gloom and actually annoy the hell out of your audience. It’s like if you set out the world’s finest buffet table, with sushi, caviar, and all the best foods possible, set it out on a table covered with flowers, fine china, and a silk tablecloth, but then dead center put a big platter of dog feces. No matter how good the food may be, the very fact that it sat on a table with dog crap is going to put a lot of people off even touching it. Furthermore, when someone looks at your beautiful buffet their eyes will be drawn to the crap in the middle and they will want to look away. Some people might start on one end of the buffet and not notice the dog crap until halfway through, but as soon as they see it the food they have collected will end up left untouched on the credenza, while others will have been chased from the room by the smell wafting through the air alone.
Thus we come to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a movie about a troubled kid dealing with his dad dying on 9-11. I am not actually saying that this movie is the greatest buffet of all time except for the dog crap salad at the center. It has plenty of other issues, most related to pacing, but I can see what director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot, The Reader) was trying to accomplish. However, it does have elements that in a movie without the dog crap centerpiece would have made for an excellent cinema experience.
The funny thing is at first I thought this movie was treating 9-11 as a main issue without forcing the audience to sit through it, to it’s benefit. The death of the father was related via expository scenes rather than footage of the Twin Towers falling. However, as the movie progresses through a never ending Vortex of Flashbacks we are subjected to everything from that day I never wanted to see or hear about again. I don’t even want to talk about it here. I watched all that stuff live on TV and still get the chills.
The story is basically As Good as it Gets meets Stand by Me set in the City of Lost Children. Tom Hanks plays super dad to his highly intelligent but disturbed kid Oskar (no other real credits). They play games and Tom’s character Thomas likes to give his son puzzles like a scavenger hunt to solve. Thomas dies in one of the towers and the kid has a breakdown of sorts. He finds a key in his dad’s possession and decides it must be part of the last game Thomas was setting up for him. He blows off his mother (Sandra Bullock-she is excellent in this movie, BTW) in a big way and undergoes an OCD inspired quest to find what lock the key fits into. Along the way he meets a ton of people, deals with his own phobias and issues, alienates his long suffering mother, and meets up with a creepy older man (Max von Sydow-Minority Report, Shutter Island, the Exorcist) who is mute and writes everything down on a piece of paper. The plot plods on and on like me trying to push my ’79 T-Bird to the gas station, with lots of boring non productive scenes punctuated by temper tantrums from the kid. The kid in a weird way describes a perfect character arc. At the beginning of the movie I found him painfully annoying. Towards the middle I kind of really got to like him and his eccentric ways. Then towards the end I found him really annoying again.
The story is obviously about the character development in the kid, and in it’s own way does an admirable (if boring) job of portraying it. The problem is the 9-11 basis for the story so overshadows everything else that you really couldn’t care. I will say the story managed to not step in any other major quagmires. While the ending was a little fanciful it did not really bend my mind accepting it. The acting was very good, and the dialog decent. If the story had been about about a kid dealing with his dad dying in a tragic Segway accident it would have been a decent, if slow, movie.
The stars. Acting was decent all around, although in spite of getting top billing Tom Hanks was only in about 15 minutes of the film and more or less played a grown up version of Josh Baskin from Big. I thought Sandra Bullock did a particularly good job. Two stars. For the most part I liked the characters, especially the mute old man. One star. The movie did what movies should at least try to do: actually have a character show some form of development (for most of you directors out there this phenomenon is called “character development”) and truly describe a true story arc. One star. Overall of a quality I wish more filmmakers would aspire to. Two stars. Total: six stars.
The black holes. 9-11 based story. Two black holes. The story kept coming back to 9-11. One black hole. Pacing felt like my mother was driving the movie. Sluggish and boring. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
So a total of two stars. I honestly did not want to see this film when I saw the trailers, and only “professional” obligations got me into the theater. Now that I have seen it I know I was right in that assessment. If you think enough time has passed and you are not disturbed by images and stories set on 9-11 then by all means go see it. You will probably enjoy it, but you won’t be invited to any of the wild parties I throw on a regular basis (the last one was in 1998, I think. Party like a Vulcan image courtesy of the Spock T Shirt category). I think the acting will carry this movie if you can ignore the subject matter. The kid is talented, and Tom Hangs and Sandra Bullock have a good chemistry together (I thought so when I reviewed Larry Crowne). However, overall the entire movie was pretty much a bummer.
Thanks for reading, as always. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Nothing really on deck until Friday, so I think I will take a break and let Jason post more of his short rants. Talk to you soon.