The Most Undeserving Best Picture Nominee for a Very Long Time
Well, I didn’t hate it. Not the most encouraging start to a review and I reckon that it’s probably the high point, because Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is one of the most baffling and disappointing Best Picture nominees ever. Often irritating and constantly unmoving, this is a film which completely fails to do justice to the dreadful event of 9/11 which it invokes.
The story is simple enough. A boy, who may have Asperger’s, loses his father in 9/11 and a year later he finds a key amongst his father’s possessions in an envelope simply marked “Black”. Determined that this was left by his dad deliberately, the boy, Oskar (Thomas Horn), goes about New York seeking the lock that the key fits.
Anyone who has seen the trailer will agree that it looks like it’s going to be heartstrings-tugging, tear-jerking, let’s-all-have-a-group-hug sort of stuff. Certainly, that is what it thinks it is. It believes itself to be this powerful story of a boy who represents the soul of the city dealing with the horror of September 11th and bringing people together in a story of healing. That would be fairly vacuous and underwhelming if it actually was a film along those lines, but it doesn’t even achieve that.
What it actually amounts to is the story of an incredibly irritating boy, running through New York being incredibly irritating, whilst Stephen Daldry uses the 9/11 card without producing any insight, meaning or genuine emotion in a film of over 2 hours in length.
Daldry seems to think that peoples’ trouble with the 9/11 factor is to do with some not being ready. Not so. United 93 is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen: a powerful, docudrama-style retelling of the event which serves as a respectful memorial to those that died and a fitting tribute to the bravery of those on that flight. It was a film which met the stakes of invoking 9/11. Extremely Loud doesn’t come close.
Indeed, this is a film which uses the “falling man” as a key image, invoking one of the most heartbreaking and upsetting elements of that horrid event repeatedly, and it gets nothing real out of it. There is an attempt at closure using that image at the end, but it comes across as quite macabre. The film as a whole has the emotional heft of a bin liner.
At its heart (if heart is the right word) is the boy. The young actor, Thomas Horn, does a good enough job at playing the character of Oskar, but that character is throttle-worthy. Young Oskar’s inferred condition seems to be another moment of manipulation. He has been inconclusively tested for Asperger’s, explaining all of his various neuroses and habits without fully invoking the name of the condition. So, he has to have a bleedin’ tambourine with him at all times, and it rings throughout the entire film.
He is very precocious, and has been indulged by his late father (an excellent Tom Hanks), and one gets the sense that we are meant to indulge him too. However, he’s just a horrid little kid. Selfish, cruel and pathetic, you are unlikely to find a character in another film this year so badly in need of a good kick up the arse.
The boy is particularly beastly to his mother, who is brilliantly played by Sandra Bullock in an underwritten part, and speaking of underwritten parts, Max von Sydow has a terrific role here as a silent man, and there are great little appearances from Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright and John Goodman. The ensemble performances are the real strong point in a film lacking in much that is commendable.
Von Sydow’s Oscar nomination is deserved, but the film’s appearance in the Best Picture category is nothing short of bizarre. It maintains a brilliant Oscar record for Stephen Daldry – all four of his features have been nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director. This is equally baffling. His last film, The Reader, was a faux important piece which used a highly emotive historical event as a key plot point to not great effect, but did feature a number of fine performances. That description fits Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close very well. Here’s hoping that he bucks the trend soon.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is on general release, rated 12A (Contains infrequent strong language and discriminatory terms) and has a running time of 129m20s.