One of the most moving films yet about 9/11, EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE is a challenging, powerful drama with a difficult lead character, an unflinching gaze at that day's tragic events and one young boy's reaction to its consequences.
Newcomer Thomas Horn stars as 9 year old Oskar Schell. Oskar is gifted with incredible intelligence and a near photographic memory, but has no social skills and personality disorders that alienate him from normal conversation.
His father Thomas (Tom Hanks) constantly challenges him with elaborate riddles, puzzles and quests to keep his brilliant mind active. Thomas and his wife Linda (Sandra Bullock) also try to push Oskar into everyday challenges as well, but they often paralyze him in terror.
When his father dies in the World Trade Center on 9/11, Oskar and his mother are devastated and forced to find a new normal, which is nearly impossible with Oskar's condition.
When looking in his father's closet one year after 9/11, Oskar finds a key that he is convinced his father has left as one last mystery to solve with closure for his father's death as the prize.
The young boy becomes all consumed in finding what lock that the key fits in the city of Manhattan. Along his journey, he meets a divorcing couple (Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright) that seem to have no connection to the riddle, an old man known only as "The Renter" that is locked up in his grandmother's guest room and a myriad of New Yorkers that he hopes are tied to the key, each with their own story and life impacted by 9/11.
When the renter emerges one evening and meets Oskar by chance, the two form a bond balanced by the boy's over-expression and the fact that the old man is mute.
Max Von Sydow is terrific as the renter, who often answers young Oskar's questions by showing a NO written on his left palm or a YES written on his right. Some of the conversations the two have are the most powerful moments in the film.
Oskar is not an easy lead character for a film. He has no social skills and is by turn sweet, rude, inquisitive, obnoxious and childlike. Thomas Horn is an incredible young actor, never flinching from any aspect of Oskar in what should have been an award nominated performance.
The film is directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and adapted by Eric Roth (Munich, Forrest Gump) from the great novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Reading the book, I couldn't imagine that it could be filmed, but Daldry and his cast have done an amazing job.
Is it a perfect film? Absolutely not. Bullock's talk with Oskar near the end of the film seems like an unreal perspective on the events of the last half of the film, but I found the opening moments, the final moments and the majority of what happens between them to be incredibly powerful.
The recreations of 9/11 are realistic and on point. When you realize what you are seeing in the opening credits its a sobering reminder of that day.
Oskar's journey of discovery isn't an easy one, but I found it as rewarding as he did by journey's end. This is a beautiful, emotionally draining film. Like Oskar, you may find the truth is incredibly close.
This is close to a perfect film and I get it an A-.