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EXTREMELY LOUD, INCREDIBLY CLOSE (director: Stephen Daldry; screenwriters: Eric Roth/novel by Jonathan Safran Foer; cinematographer: Chris Menges; editor: Claire Simpson; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Tom Hanks (Thomas Schell), Sandra Bullock (Linda Schell), Thomas Horn (Oskar Schell), Zoe Caldwell (Oskar’s Grandmother), Max von Sydow (The Renter), Jeffrey Wright (William Black), Viola Davis (Abby Black), John Goodman (Stan the Doorman), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Walt the Locksmith); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Scott Rudin; Warner Bros.; 2011)

“In a strange twist in casting, Daldry has one of the world’s greatest actors,the 82-year-old Max von Sydow, play the part of a mute while the shrill obnoxious kid protagonist never stops talking.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tells one of many stories from the 9/11 tragedy, where the survivors wrestle in their own unique way with their grief over the loss of a loved one and try to find closure. Trouble is this historical drama is contrived and artificial, and its reality seems fudged. The kid protagonist, played by 13-year-old newcomer Thomas Horn, refers to 9/11 as the “worst day,” and it’s through his eyes as the talkative eleven-year-old Oskar Schell that we see what transpires in a shaken NYC one year into the post-9/11 period.

The film is based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, and is written in a sticky manipulative way by Eric Roth (“Forest Gump”). Director Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”/”The Reader”/”Billy Elliot”)keeps the mush well-manicured and the tears generously flowing from its ensemble cast members. In a strange twist in casting, Daldry has one of the world’s greatest actors,the 82-year-old Max von Sydow, play the part of a mute while the shrill obnoxious kid protagonist never stops talking. Nevertheless von Sydow is the most interesting actor in the pic through his nuanced performance.

Child prodigy Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is in shell-shock as he bereaves the death of his caring jeweler dad (Tom Hanks) at the World Trade Center, who was trapped on the 105th floor of one of the twin towers while attending a meeting that day. The brainy nonstop talking loudmouth kid, a probable Aspergian syndrome child, after accidentally finding a key hidden in his father’s closet with the envelope it was in addressed to Black, believes dad is leaving him a final message hidden somewhere in the city if he could find what the key opens. His likable game-playing dad, seen in flashbacks, loves giving the kid missions to accomplish to test his brain power and the kid figures this is also one of dad’s learning experience missions. The compulsive kid, wearing a knapsack and bringing along a tambourine to exorcise the evil spirits, spends all his leisure time that year tracking down by foot, fearful of riding the subway, all the 472 people in the five boroughs listed in the phone books with the name of Black to see if the key fits. The first of the Blacks is Brooklyn resident Abby Black (Viola Davis), whose stockbroker hubby William (Jeffrey Wright) is ending the marriage that moment and she is filled with tears and seems as grief-stricken as the kid. I guess that means everyone in the city has something to cry over, and thereby people are connected by their suffering.

Meanwhile Oskar’s grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), who lives in the building near him, with her apartment facing his, has taken on a lodger using the name The Renter (Max von Sydow), who refuses to speak–communicating by writing on a notepad and by showing the “Yes” and “No” tattoos he has on his palms. The Renter soon teams up with the hyper kid and becomes his surrogate dad, as they track down all the city residents named Black. We soon learn The Renter is the kid’s German grandfather, and later learn The Renter possibly elected to stop speaking after his parents were killed in the allied Dresden bombings during the war when he was a child and who later married and abandoned Osker’s father because he was so guilt-stricken.

In this implausible film, Daldry builds the suspense by the kid chasing down all the Blacks, holding off until late in the film revealing the mystery of The Renter’s muteness and at last getting the viewer to hear the six answering-machine messages left by dad when trapped in the Twin Towers that only the kid knows about. All these mysteries when resolved will lead the kid to reconnect with his heartbroken survivor widowed mom (Sandra Bullock), whom he learns in the third act loves him as much as his dad did and was always there for him–something he would have noticed before if he wasn’t so self-absorbed, so taken with dad, and paid more attention to mom. It’s a film that uses that tragic day in American history to show that we all need to be loved, we all are better off when making an effort to relate to our parents and we are all better off when receiving from others reassurances about our life. In the film’s indelicate way, it shows how it sometimes takes a tragedy for us to find out how strong we can be on our own and how much we need the support of other loving souls. That things in the end work out so well here is fine, except the action parts do not seem believable. Its crassness takes away too much from a questionable fairy tale-like story to begin with; a tale that, in any case, never made a connection with me because it was so extremely loud in its nonstop assault on reality.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”