I finally got to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close last night. I enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 book of the same name, and I had high hopes for the film adaptation with Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and newcomer Thomas Horn in the lead roles. I was quite disappointed. It wasn’t that the movie was unwatchable; rather that it was so obviously calibrated for awards season that you could almost see the screenwriter and director’s hands moving the characters around, all the while hoping for that elusive golden trophy. It never reached sentimental relevance; it only mimicked it.
The movie tells the story of Oskar Schell (Horn), an incredibly smart young man, who has inconclusively been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. His father (Hanks) was always trying to make his son more outgoing, so he would plan scavenger hunts throughout the city for the boy. After his father’s death in the September 11 attacks, Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet, and, convinced that his father left him another city-wide expedition, Oskar decides to track down what the key opens.
The story is immensely appealing. Oskar finds the name “Black” on the envelope which held the key, and decides to map out routes to all of the Blacks in New York City in hopes of finding the one who knew his father. He enlists the help of his grandmother’s renter, who is only called The Renter (Max von Sydow) throughout the film. The Renter is soon revealed to be Oskar’s long-lost grandfather, but the storyline, like many others, is treated cursorily in favor of the preciousness of Oskar’s meetings with various Blacks.
It seems a shame that the movie was so poorly conceived because the acting was all exceptional. Thomas Horn was plucked from obscurity after a Jeopardy! competition, and proved to be a talented young actor. Unfortunately, no amount of talent could make Oskar a sympathetic leading character—he tells his mother halfway through the film that he would have preferred her death to his father's, and never really redacts it. The viewer’s connection with the film relies on their understanding of Oskar and his precociousness, but we don't even like him.
Also, the movie never seems to recognize that it can’t fit all of the cutesy quirks and idiosyncrasies from the book into a movie. Storylines, like that between Oskar and his grandfather and his mother's depression, are maddeningly dropped. Instead, happy conclusions are squeezed into too little screen time in favor of including more shots of Oskar playing his tambourine. It's all too pat, but it's not like we really cared anyway.
Read the book instead.