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Movie Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

December 23, 2011

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – A Warner Bros. Release

Release Date: December 25th, 2011 (at AMC Yonge & Dundas)

January 20th, 2012 (wide)

Rated PG for strong thematic elements and some disturbing scenes

Running time: 129 minutes

Stephen Daldry (dir.)

Eric Roth (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer

Alexandre Desplat (music)

Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell

Tom Hanks as Thomas Schell

Sandra Bullock as Linda Schell

Zoe Caldwell as Oskar’s Grandmother

Max von Sydow as The Renter

John Goodman as Stan the Doorman

Viola Davis as Abby Black

Jeffrey Wright as William Black

Stephen McKinley Henderson as Walt the Locksmith

Bernadette Drayton as Prayer Group Woman

©DreamWorks Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Our reviews below:


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

**** (out of 4)

The events of that tragic Tuesday in September back in 2001 are still fresh in many people’s minds, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close beautifully pays tribute to those who were lost and their families left behind.  In adapting the great literary work of Jonathan Safran Foer for the screen, director Stephen Daldry has crafted a daring and brilliant film that is as deeply moving as it is visually unique.  It won’t be for everyone, but if you embrace the unique cast of characters and allow yourself to be taken over by the heartbreaking emotional scenes, then the experience of watching the film is unforgettable.

When Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) was only ten, his father (Tom Hanks) was killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.  Emotionally distant from his mother (Sandra Bullock), Oskar is haunted by the phone messages left by his father on the morning of 9/11.  Falling somewhere on the spectrum of Asperger’s syndrome, his grief is heightened by confusion and a need to understand the world.  A year after “the worst day,” Oskar finds a key hidden in his father’s closet, in an envelope marked with nothing but the last name “Black.”  He makes a list of the 472 people in New York with that last name, and sets out on an expedition to ask each one of them about the key.

The first is Abby Black (Viola Davis) who is about to be separated from her husband, William (Jeffrey Wright).  Before long, Oskar is joined on his journey by a mysterious elderly man simply known as The Renter (Max von Sydow), who speaks only through written notes and the words “Yes” and “No” tattooed on his hands.  Every one of the unique characters have their own story, and they are all searching for something or have questions of their own.  The fact that many of these questions go unanswered or come to unlikely conclusions might be aggravating for some viewers, but for me it adds to both the pathos and believability of the story.

This isn’t a film of easy answers or simple sentimentality.  Not everyone will relate or even like the characters, and some audiences will be so saddened by the subject matter that the story will just be too painful.  To tell you the honest truth, I actually have no idea how mainstream audiences are going to react to the film.  At the screening I attended, you could have heard a pin drop during some of the most emotionally complex scenes.  This is one of those great movies that already means a lot to me, but I don’t expect everyone to have as strong a reaction to the film.  The fact that it won’t be for everyone in some ways makes it even more personal.

But I think pretty much everyone can agree that the performances here are uniformly great.  Tom Hanks is excellent in flashbacks, and Sandra Bullock provides a heartbreaking realism to her scenes.  Max von Sydow gives a supporting performance that ranks as one of the best of the year, without ever uttering a single word.  Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright also get their moments to shine, with some memorable and deeply moving scenes.  But the real find here is Thomas Horn.  He is hauntingly great, delivering one of the best performances I’ve recently seen by a child actor, perfectly using small nuances in facial expressions to deliver a lot of the emotion.

Does the key unlock one last message left behind by Oskar’s father?  This isn’t really the point of the story, which beautifully shows us how a boy dealing with his own pain and grief can bring together hundreds of different people in the wake of a heartbreaking tragedy.  It’s a quietly reassuring story, that deeply moves us with scenes of honest emotion and is anchored by great performances.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close certainly won’t be for everyone, but it means a lot to me on the most pure emotional and personal levels.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of 11-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) who after losing his father (Tom Hanks) in 9/11, finds a key among his dad’s things and becomes obsessed with finding what it opens, convinced it will be a last message from his father.  Many will not find the quirky character of Oskar likable.  He could be considered strange, but for those familiar with Asperger’s syndrome, his behaviour in the situations is quite believable, even relatable, and what he does makes sense through that lens.

I personally loved the film.  It is heartbreakingly beautiful, and I was able to empathize with Oskar’s drive to make sense of something incomprehensible, trying to create order in a disordered world.  While all of the acting here is good, the acting from newcomer Thomas Horn (discovered after his win on Kids Jeopardy!) is impeccable, and almost frighteningly good from a young first time actor.  The whole film rests on his shoulders and he carries it with ease, even throughout the many, many close-ups in the emotional story.  Another performance worth specific note is that of Max von Sydow who plays the at first mysterious man known only as ‘The Renter’ who rents a room in Oskar’s grandmother’s apartment.  Von Sydow’s performance is completely silent as the character is a selective mute, but it is never exaggerated and invokes as much, if not more, emotion than most speaking roles put to screen.

I must also mention that the score by Alexandre Desplat is one of the best matched in a film this year.  It is hauntingly beautiful when played over the scenes, although it may not have the same effect played on it’s own – particularly for those who haven’t seen the film.  At times the score is combined with elements within the story, such as Oskar’s tambourine or his piano playing.  While melodic, the music is fittingly simple, matching the young age of the protagonist.  Thus, a lot of the resonance does come from the simplicity combined with the intensity of some of the emotions on screen – presenting a classic case of how to beautifully underscore a film.  I’ll probably write more about the score in the coming weeks.

The filming here matches the thought-process of Oskar (as does everything in the film) and the script is very well written as well, editing the book to a very film worthy length and style.  I personally would have this one up for acting nods, Best Score, and Best Picture, but only time will tell how the film is received.  This is a big budget release with a very specific feel – you may want to know and be ready for what kind of film you will be going into.  Some will find themselves in the theatre and be surprised at what they find and enjoy it, while others will mistake it for something entirely different and walk out upset or disappointed.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a film destined to get a mixed response from audiences.  It is a hard one for those who haven’t read the book to pin down from the trailer, and then there’s the release date (limited) of Christmas Day, which will probably not draw many crowds, with most opting for a lighter toned film.   Here’s hoping that even if it doesn’t get a large reception it will still go wider in January, because for those interested, it is worth seeing.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

The events of September 11th, 2011, affected the whole world.  But the ones most affected were the children who lost a parent in the attacks on the Twin Towers.  Based on a book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells a fictional account of a boy who must come to terms with his father’s death during 9/11.  Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) has always enjoyed going on reconnaissance expeditions with his dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks), in search of New York’s elusive “6th Borough.”

Then one fateful September day, after coming home early from school Oskar gets a terrible message from his dad on the answering machine.  His mother (Sandra Bullock) and grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) must break the tragic news to him that his father has died.

One year later, while rummaging through his father’s closet, Oskar stumbles upon a key in an envelope marked “Black.”  Realizing Black is a name, he decides to go on his own reconnaissance expedition.  He goes through the phone book, finds everyone in New York named Black, and decides to visit each one.  Oskar thinks if he can complete the quest, he will feel closer to his late father.  Realizing that it will take him over 3 years to meet every Black in New York, he seeks help from “The Renter,” a mysteriously silent elderly neighbour.  The search for Black’s key leads Oskar to connect with people in a way he could never have imagined.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  It captures the emotions that a child might have experienced after losing a parent in such a violent way.  Add the fact that Oskar is a child who is clearly autistic (he says he was assessed for Aspergers Syndrome, erroneously referring to it as a “disease” instead of a form of autism, stating “tests were indefinite”), one can see the incredible distress that he experiences.

Thomas Horn plays Oskar with incredible maturity and emotion.  Having only appeared once before on screen during Kids Jeopardy, Thomas Horn will get several more roles, considering his talent.  Horn’s acting, along with tight screenwriting, unique camera work and an often minimalistic score by Alexandre Desplat, capture Oskar’s unique way of looking at the world.  All the characters are well developed, but Oskar really carries the film.  While Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close won’t be for everyone, as the depiction of 9/11 may bring back painful memories, for those who can handle it, this movie is a beautiful and inspiring film about human connections.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review by Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

The topic of childhood grief, particularly dealing with the loss of a parent in 9/11 is a challenging one to film without delving into melodrama.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a well-made, touching film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent novel.

The story is told from Oskar Schell’s (Thomas Horn) point of view.  Eleven-year-old Oskar and his dad, jeweller Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) were inseparable spending much of their free time on father/son reconnaissance expeditions (elaborate scavenger hunts).  When Thomas is killed during the 9/11 attacks Oskar is devastated.  A year later his grieving mother, Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) feels Oskar is slipping away from her and obviously not coping well.  It’s when he finds a mysterious key in an envelope inside a blue vase tucked away in his late father’s closet that Oskar begins a quest that will eventually help him heal.  Since the envelope had the word Black written on it, he figures it must be another clue from his dad on what was supposed to be another expedition.

The film basically follows Oskar as he sets up an elaborate system to meet all the people in New York with the name Black in hopes that one of them will have some insight or information that will help him feel close to his father again.  It’s clear as he goes through his journeys that this is a child on the autism spectrum, specifically, Asperger’s syndrome.  Many viewers may find Oskar’s character strange or disturbing but if you have any knowledge of the syndrome, the portrayal by young Thomas Horn is completely believable and both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  As a newcomer to acting, Thomas Horn has done a wonderful job with this challenging role.

The various “Blacks” that Oskar meets along the way provide some humour, some truly touching moments and a powerful message about the connectedness of people.  One connection that he makes with his grandmother’s renter (Max Von Sydow) is particularly interesting.  The man is selectively non-verbal and “speaks” through handwritten notes and the words “yes” and “no” printed on his hands.  Those who read the book will realize that this character’s backstory is only touched upon in the film.

Though many will find it hard to watch since it may bring back painful memories of 9/11, with its powerful performances from the lead and the rest of the cast, a compelling story, well-written dialogue and excellent cinematography, all backed up with a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a film worth seeing.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close follows Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) as he solves the mystery of a key found among the effects of his father Thomas (Tom Hanks), killed at the World Trade Center. His mother (Sandra Bullock) has been supportive but remained in the background while Thomas continuously inspired Oskar to use his brilliance and curiosity to overcome timidity and ultrasensitivity to outside stimuli. Knowing only that the key belonged to someone named Black, Oskar plans to visit all the hundreds of Blacks in the New York directory. He is joined on the quest by the reclusive renter (Max von Sydow) in his grandmother’s (Zoe Caldwell) building, who has been mute ever since he and the grandmother both survived the World War II destruction of Dresden.

Directed by Stephen Daldry and adapted by Eric Roth from the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a sensitive account of a child coming to terms with grief along with the additional gifts and challenges consistent with Asperger Syndrome, whose diagnosis at the time was just emerging. Though some uninformed people may be put off by Oskar’s behaviour, it always rings true in the brilliant performance of newcomer Thomas Horn, leading an excellent cast that also features Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright. Despite a running time of over two hours, the film maintains a sense of mystery and wonder based on flashbacks of the father’s inspiration, while taking the time needed to develop empathy for the characters. The  score from Alexander Desplat provides a perfect accompaniment, mixing perfectly with the city sounds and tambourine Oskar uses to mask them.


Consensus: Based on the excellent novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredbily Close is a deeply moving and brilliantly acted film about people coming together in the wake of tragedy, anchored by a great performance from newcomer Thomas Horn and a beautiful musical score from Alexandre Desplat.  **** (Out of 4)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Stewart permalink
    December 23, 2011 3:23 am

    Despite all of the criticism from critics, I am very much anticipating this film. Very glad to hear the positive thoughts from you guys!


    • December 23, 2011 8:33 am

      It’s the sort of film that is destined to seriously divide the opinions of critics and audiences alike, but I hope more people will give it a chance. If you appreciate the story, then the experience really pays off.

      As always, thanks for reading!

      -John C.


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