Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language
Markus Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
There comes a movie every year that critics seem to hate, if for no other reason than to be contrarians, and unfortunately “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is that movie. Superbly directed by overwhelmingly talented Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) and flawlessly adapted from a Jonathan Safran Foer novel by Eric Roth, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, is a powerful story about a nine year old boy named Oskar who has Aspergers Syndrome and his coming to terms with the sudden death of his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. His father Thomas Schell, played by Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan), connects with his son on a very deep level, understanding that Oskar doesn’t function like other boys his age and needs activities, they rename “expeditions” (which send him all around the city of New York to find certain items) to learn how to be sociable. But, when Thomas dies tragically in the aforementioned 9/11 attacks, Oskar still believes that a mysterious key (he finds in his father’s room) holds the clue to one last expedition that’s conclusion will help Oskar keep his father’s memory alive; in his mind. There is also a subplot with a mute elderly man who may or may not be Oskar’s estranged grandfather, accompanying Oskar on his mysterious key expedition, and his widowed mother, played by Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), who cannot seem to connect with Oskar in the same way his father had. Ok, does the film come off as a little far-fetched (at times) as nine year old Oskar scours New York City to find what lock this key fits? Yes. And does the boy’s mannerisms and visual sense of the world take a little time to adjust too? Yes, in fact, it took me a good twenty minutes to get comfortable with the Oskar character. And yes, it does have that slight odor of pretentiousness throughout in a New York is way, way, way better than your hometown kind of way, but surprisingly all of that is FORGIVABLE because the heart of the storytelling here is not only emotionally engaging, but structured in a visually compelling manner that will stay with audiences long after they have left the theater.
Every facet of this film seems to elicit a veritable cornucopia of talent. From the acting of the co-stars Hanks and Bullock, who both play bit roles as the mother and father respectfully and give subdued yet still excellent performances; to Jesus himself, recent Oscar nominee Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told) playing the mysterious elderly man, who just very well may be Oskar’s grandfather. But the actor here that is on everyone’s lips when it pertains to this film (mainly because he is in almost every shot) is newcomer Thomas Horn (who is 2011’s answer to Haley Joel Osment). Horn (who’s only claim to fame is that he was a winner on Jeopardy Kids) plays the Oskar character, giving an emotionally draining performance as a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome. Many criticisms of Horn’s performance have stated that his acting was so over-the-top that it will be hard for mass audiences to connect with Oskar’s emotional plight, let alone root for the child. But my argument is, when it is taken into account that his character is dealing with a syndrome which (by definition) “is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction as, well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests”, said character will be assuredly easier to accept, allowing those who would have been distracted by the abnormality of Oskar’s mannerisms or speech tones to take that aspect as just a part of the story. And it does help that Horn is nothing short of spectacular here, spouting off seemingly pages of dialogue with such emotional fire all while keeping the integrity of the film intact. As for the direction, it is some of the most expressive and impressive of the year. Daldry gives a mass audience the chance to see through the eyes of a young boy with Asperger’s, rather than using a third person narrative, which at times only works to disconnect the audience with the subject. And although the movie never comes right out and says that Oskar has Asperger’s disease, the film does allude to it a few times verbally, but mostly in his mannerisms and the visually unique way Daldry displays how Oskar envisions and functions in the world. Daldry also demonstrates his talent in the way he handles the very touchy, visually heavy events of 9/11, at the same time without pulling any punches, lacing the entire film with the emotionally abrasive sights and sounds of that tragic day. Before seeing this film, it may have run through my mind (and the minds of many others who have seen the trailer) of how if might be too soon for an in-depth/melodramatic/9/11 piece having to do with a child, but “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and Stephen Daldry quickly erased that notion. Because what he has done here, is created yet another masterpiece.
Final Thought: At times joyous, at times haunting, at times touching and at times incredibly sad, there is something that is all together truly captivating and need I say brilliant about “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”; something that many notable critics, who have been railing against this film, are missing, simply because they can’t get past the fact that a character with Asperger’s syndrome is running the show. Furthermore, that this gem of a film only pulled a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes (even after it was just nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday), only proves that if a few notable critics dismiss a film for no rational reason (only alluding to their aggressive dislike for little Thomas Horn) many audiences (like mindless sheep) are sure to go into this film with drastically low expectations; or not see it at all. My suggestion is that you go see it for yourself, because (in this critics opinion) “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” may not only be the most well done (well structured) film surrounding the events of 9/11, and not only does it have one of the best child performances in recent movie history, but would have undoubtedly made my top ten movies of the best films of 2011 list, if I could do it all over again.
Side Note: If this subject matter interests you, read a book called “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon. I know, the title alone is enough to send one running for the hills. But even though this novel is about a subject matter not nearly as extreme as 9/11, it is still a great accompaniment piece to understand and learn how someone with a learning disability sees the world.
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