Oskar (Thomas Horn) is an eleven year old boy struggling to deal with the death of his father (Tom Hanks) who died during the 9/11 attacks. A year after his death, Oskar finds a key labeled “Black” in his father's belongings and he begins his hunt to track down its origin thinking that this is his father's last challenge that he needs to solve. In his journey, Oskar meets various people including the mysterious The Renter (Max Von Sydow) but at the same time it pulls him away with his mother (Sandra Bullock).
The film suggests that Oskar is suffering from Asperger's Syndrome and with him narrating the story, it gives us a glimpse on how someone who has a special condition like him process a devastating event of a losing someone in such a horrible way. As I said above it's not an easy watch and a lot of Oskar's mannerisms and actions will make you want to slap him but what the film does is to get us in his shoes,to let us see how he process a pain when he doesn't have the emotional capability to digest it all in. That for me is fascinating to watch as I felt Oskar's confusion and the hunger to get an answer to a question he does not fully understand but feels the need to uncover it in any way possible. I felt the struggle of not getting the answer he wanted and letting go of the memory of the person that he loves so much.
I'm not sure if Oskar is an accurate depiction of most kids with special needs but I have to say though that the character resonated well with me because I personally know someone who's just like him and what I saw in the movie mirrors him perfectly. They offend people obliviously because they say things as it is. Deep inside though they want to connect to people better but their obsessive and detail-oriented nature keeps them from doing so.
The controversial aspect of this movie is the fact that story's point of inception is during the September 11 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York. It's a sensitive topic that must be handled delicately and I have to say that some of the choices director Stephen Daldry made pushed the buttons a little too hard making the film somehow exhausting to watch. In some ways it felt like the tragedy was exploited to manipulate emotions but however the sense of grief felt in the incident tied in with Oskar's emotional journey.
With Oskar at the center of the story, it's important that they get the right actor to play this difficult character and Thomas Horn did an excellent job. For a first timer (he was discovered in the quiz show Jeopardy), it's quite impressive how he held his ground with seasoned actors. I can imagine how physically and emotionally difficult the role is and while there were scenes in the first part of the film where Horn's performance felt too calculated, he lets loose as the movie progresses.
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are the big names in the cast but it should be noted that their roles are quite small especially Hanks for obvious reasons. But to their credit they made their short scenes shine and Bullock in particular was strong in the confrontation scene she had with Oskar. While the screenplay did not have the extensive background of The Renter like in the novel, Max Von Sydow's performance was so good that the character left a very strong impression.
Screenwriter Eric Roth did a solid job of adapting Jonathan Safran Foer's book as Oskar's voice in the novel was translated well on the big screen. For those who read the book, some characters in the novel are not present here like Ron (Linda's friend whom Oskar suspects as her new boyfriend) and the old man who does not leave his room until he accompanies Oskar in his search. And while the book's original ending was there,the film added a couple of new scenes to wrap up the story in a more traditional way. The film's ending felt a little too heavy-handed but it connects well to the story overall.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at its core is a film about grief and the process of dealing with a great loss. The film worked for me on an emotional level, it maybe not be for everyone as the divided critical reception suggests, but it has a story worth telling. 8 / 10
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close opens tomorrow (February 29, 2012)