Seemingly and somewhat surprisingly one of the most divisive movies of the year, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the new tearjerker from the director of The Hours, Billy Elliot and The Reader, is an alluring, captivating movie that hits all the right notes. Sometimes a little too perfectly.
To fault a movie for being "perfect" is unusual, but just in the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It's a beautiful film, superbly acted, well written and engaging, all the facets of an award-worthy film. On the surface, it's nearly flawless. And yet that's just it. It's a little too flawless, a little too polished, too smooth for its own good.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about heavy stuff. It's about 9/11. And it's about a kid with Asperger syndrome who is trying to deal with 9/11, and the death of his father. It's about a kid who is unable to communicate with his depressed mother, and who is fixated on a task to the point of obsession.
It's a great movie that does amazingly well at getting inside the mind of a kid suffering from a tremendous loss, and who sees the world and reacts to those around him in a different, hard-to-understand way.
Thomas Horn turns in a fine performance as young Oskar Schell, who schleps around New York trying to find the owner of a key he finds in his father's closest, a needle-in-a-haystack search that only the most obsessive of minds would commit to. As obnoxious as his character is - and he is extremely obnoxious - Horn upstages the rest of the cast, including the likes of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.
Horn shines brightest in one scene where he explains his feelings to a mute neighbor (Max von Sydow), an onslaught of emotions and anger and disbelief that works so well not only because of the young actor but also Stephen Daldry's execution. It's an extremely powerful scene that jolts the audience and elevates the movie to another level.
Unfortunately, for most of the movie, you'll want to bash Oskar's head in with the tambourine he carries with him at all times. Horn is great, but by definition his character is standoffish. It's hard to relate to Oskar, and it's even harder to like him. It's all intentional, but that doesn't make the experience of watching him any more enjoyable.
Character issues aside, the one real problem Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close suffers from is its desire to be that perfect film everyone - especially Oscar voters - loves. Daldry capstones the movie with a fabulously done and emotional scene between Sandra Bullock and Horn, but then the movie takes the unnecessary step of (SPOILER ALERT) revealing that Bullock was much more involved with Horn's adventure than he knew. It's this unnecessary extra layer, this peel of the onion that extends beyond the movie's emotional core, that feels too... Hollywood-friendly. Like it just couldn't resist being the all-inclusive Oscar treat.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a very well done movie. It's a movie that will leave many audience members sobbing, that will appeal to the heart in a way that movies like this do. It's a movie that, if nominated, could do very well at the Oscars, too. It is, after all, made to do well at the Oscars. But as good as it is, as much as it's worth seeing, just because it's made for the Oscars doesn't mean it deserves the Oscars.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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