Saturday, 25 February 2012

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (2011) - 3 1/2 STARS

"If things were easy to find, they wouldn't be worth finding." 


 DIRECTOR: Stephen DALDRY
STARRING: Thomas HORN, Tom HANKS, Sandra BULLOCK, Max VON SYDOW

With the 84th Academy Awards almost upon us, it's been another year where I have managed to get through most of the contenders nominated for Best Picture (except Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris) and have now been able to conclude the category with the viewing of Stephen Daldry's emotional family drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. A mix of groans and shocked cheers came from the critics and audiences when the film was the final one to be announced as a Best Picture nominee alongside more self-esteemed choices like The Artist and The Descendants. For director Daldry, he has once again succeeded in getting another of his films to score big at the Oscars, adapting a story which uses one of humanity's greatest tragedies to create a melodramatic but intriguing film that doesn't really deserve its tag as the worst film nominated for Best Picture....

 After his father Thomas (Hanks) dies on 9/11, autistic but intelligent child Oskar (Horn) is left devastated over the tragedy particularly because of the strong bond the pair shared prior to 'the worst day'. With his grief-stricken mother Linda (Bullock) also struggling to overcome the loss, Oskar seeks to overcome his troubles when he stumbles into his father's wardrobe to find a mysterious key inside an envelope with the word 'Black' written on it. Determined to find the person named Black (who may have the lock for the key), Oskar embarks on a lengthy quest around New York over the next few months to track down this person and find out whether his father was trying to deliver one final message to him. During his search, he encounters The Renter (Von Sydow), a humble mute who offers to help the youngster with finding this person but the more they look around, the more the frustration and anxiety creeps in with Oskar knowing that he'll never be able to move on from his father's death unless he finds the lock....

What positives we can take out of the film despite its controversial usage of 9/11 as a story backdrop is the journey for which our leading youngster goes through to hold on to his remaining memories of his father. As expected the big screen adaptation is more different to Jonathan Safran Foer's novel with cutting out filler scenes and this film did struggle with its original presentation when shown to test audiences but the final version here makes for a more sombre and touching film. Daldry restrains from being completely over-sentimental with his story knowing when to pull the emotional heartstrings when its comes to dealing with the themes of loss and tragedy even from facial expressions. Leading the film from the front is newcomer Thomas Horn whose performance as Oskar does have a marmite feel of loving or hating the character. On the plus side, we sympathise with the loss he has suffered and become as intrigued as him to find out the truth regarding the mysterious lock. However it is his representation as a boy with autism that becomes the key factor to his erratic behaviour and as a person with a similar disability, Horn managed to pull off the social awkwardness to deliver a touching performance. Hanks for once, doesn't command the screen like his young co-star but he still gives another gentle role while Bullock provides the devastation within her character as she struggles to deal with the loss of her husband and being isolated by her son during his search. But out of the supporting players who lend effective support including Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, it is veteran Von Sydow (Oscar-nodded in Supporting for this film) who gives the more affectionate role as a man silenced by his own shocking experience with humanity and being able to express his emotions and understandings without saying a single word. His scenes with Horn are delicate and unique when it comes to the connection between both characters and is made more powerful in one key scene where Oskar tries to show The Renter his answer machine with the final messages sent by his father.

What becomes the problem with Daldry's film which is evident from his last project The Reader is his attempt to use a devastating event (with a recent anniversary) to try and make the film emotionally appeal to audiences which the writer Foer himself received criticism for as well. Evidently you can tell like with the 2008 film, there has been a lot of work done to overcome the problems it received in post-production including the complete cut of James Gandolfini's character from the final film. While the story is more about Oskar's adventure, it tries to mould the tragedy of 9/11 as a core to the narrative and at times does go too deep with its focus especially with one particular shot of Oskar's father falling from the top of the World Trade Centre. For most people, it'll be considered too soon to use a recent national tragedy as part of a child's story. Oskar himself is not the most likeable child character in film history, and while Horn does well in his performance, many will see Oskar as irritating, rude and even at times horrible (one of his scenes with Bullock springs to mind) hence why his adventure won't be supported by many.

VERDICT: The backdrop is too soon for a family drama and at times it can be hollow but Daldry's latest awards contender isn't as poor as many have said (though not as brilliant as many anticipated), with youngster Horn standing out in one of 2011's biggest tearjerkers.

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