Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close delves deep into a singular story of a search undertaken by a young boy whose father died in the September 11 attacks.The film is a fictional story existing within a real life event that changed the world. Mostly occurring a year after the event, Daldry mediates the collective grief that a worldwide community shares, and applies it through a 9-year-old’s journey to uncover a mystery.
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) and his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) would embark on what they called “reconnaissance expeditions” uncovering a series of different quests. After his father dies, Oskar discovers a small packet hidden in his father’s closet containing a key. The only clue he is left with is the word Black. Deciding that Black refers to a surname, Oskar sets out on contacting every Black in New York City.
Precocious is one polite way of describing Oskar. Perhaps a closer definition would highlight his mania, phobias, anxieties and extreme heightened intelligence. He is acutely aware of so much, and yet lacks the social skills and graces that his peers would be gaining. Oskar is a character with a form of autism, and this interesting inclusion creates for dramatic tensions and representation of a disorder that is highly prevalent.
It’s been over ten years since the tragedies of 9/11 occurred, and Extremely Loud is certainly not the first film to explore the after effects. It is however, one film that will still be placed in a category of awkwardness and branded as exploitation, simply due to its subject matter. Add in a character with a form of autism, and the opportunities for exploitation are rife. However, this film is not exploitative, but evocative. Collectively as a global nation, we still grieve the loss of innocence and mourn for those fallen. By reliving the tragedy as it unfolded in broken up time, Daldry’s direction and a screenplay from Eric Roth allow for the healing to continue with grace and class.
Performances from the talented ensemble of fine actors echo these sentiments, with a strong performance from Thomas Horn in the leading role of Oskar. Making a mark with his debut feature film performance, Horn impressively traverses through Oskar’s emotions which dominate nearly every scene of the film. Sandra Bullock is captivating and gives one of the best performances of her career in the role as a supportive and grief stricken wife and mother. Viola Davis once again manages to wonderfully steal the one small scene she is in (reminiscent of her compelling performance in Doubt). Tom Hanks is also fine, as are Zoe Caldwell as the grandmother and Max von Sydow as her renter.
Strong in sentiment, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not didactic but engrossing, allowing the audience to get caught up in the quest, with brief reminders of the post 9/11 setting. Extremely moving and incredibly touching, this was a definite surprise of the season.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be theatrically released in Australia on February 23 through Roadshow Films.