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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-
Music: B+

The more you look for flaws in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the more you're going to find. If you look at it with strict objectivity, it gets easier and easier to pull apart. But none of that changes the fact that this movie is an emotional experience that, flaws and all, is eminently satisfying. You just have to surrender to it.

This is a rare case where I differ clearly from critical consensus. Many people have dismissed this movie as too emotionally manipulative. But if you know going in that it's a tearjerker, and that's what you're looking for, then it more than delivers. And actually, the ostensibly obtrusive score by Alexandre Desplat gets a bad wrap. Sure, it's close to omnipresent, and one could argue that's not necessary -- but, like the movie itself, it walks a fine line, and never quite steps over it.

It's tricky business, making a movie with a story so closely tied to 9/11. Anyone older than about 15 is going to remember their own experience on that day, and be taken back there by this movie. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has the challenge of keep us in the story it's telling, in spite of that. It does an admirable job.

It's also filled with great actors who round out a wonderful cast that keeps the movie from being anywhere near as schmaltzy as the trailer would suggest -- or even many critics have claimed. Don't listen to them! Even the kid, Oskar, who on paper should be very unlikable, is totally compelling -- thanks to the gifted young actor Thomas Horn. Any fears of a Dakota Fanning-like precocious-child-actor-bot are alleviated by his nuanced performance. In short clips, he seems almost irritatingly unrealistic; in context, the boy's eccentricities totally make sense.

He's been tested for Asperger's Syndrome, you see. "Results were inconclusive," he says. Vague, but it works. He's just an odd kid. You've probably met the type. He's socially inept. His dad, played with characteristic warmth by Tom Hanks, devises fun little tricks to get Oskar talking to people. And that was before he ended up stuck in the World Trade Center on what Oskar consistently calls "The Worst Day" -- the day his dad died in the tower.

Oskar finds a key inside a blue vase inside his dad's closet a year after his death. The bulk of the movie concerns Oskar's vast search, all over New York City, to find the lock this key opens. He's convinced his dad left the key as a clue and wanted him to find it. It's inside an envelope labeled "Black," so he finds the addresses of every person in New York with that last name, and essentially goes door to door. Predictably, most people are very compassionate and humor Oskar and his questions.

The first such person, though, turns out to be a key (pardon the pun) character in this story, and is played by the wonderful Viola Davis. Her husband is played by the stellar Jeffrey Wright. Oskar meets them and moves on, but these two pop up again, after several montages of different people Oskar meets. But I won't give that away, as it's one of the twists in the movie that you don't quite see coming, and is pulled off with finesse. Those two characters have a story with a richness of its own.

There's also "The Renter" (Max von Sydow), the tenant renting a room from Oskar's grandmother in her apartment across the way from Oskar's. Oskar develops a friendship with this old man, who doesn't speak aside from holding up tattoos on the palms of his hands that say YES or NO, or writing notes on a note pad. Oskar is naturally very curious about the reason why this guy doesn't speak, and asks many questions about it, and never gets a concise answer. Neither do we.

This is one of a few questions that remain unanswered when the movie ends, and whether or not they should be is perhaps up for debate. But by that point, the story has long since hooked us with its emotional underpinnings. There are some great scenes between Thomas Horn and Sandra Bullock as his mother. Bullock, for some time, seems to be oddly relegated to the background, but she ends up being a pivotal part of the story.

At the end of the day, it's really a movie about a boy and his mother coming to terms with the death of a husband and father. It's just that they have a unique way of going about it, which makes a thoroughly engaging story, and 9/11 happens to be the context. You would never expect any of this to work, so much of it appears on the surface to be both convoluted and sappy. But in reality, it's refreshingly straightforward and emotionally honest.

Thomas Horn and Sandra Bullock are son and mother rediscovering each other in EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE.

Overall: A-
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