MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The trailer for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close certainly does look a little sickening and emotionally exploitative, and to be honest I wasn’t particularly looking forwards to seeing this film. I guess that proves you should never completely trust your instincts regarding trailers. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not only the best titled film from the past 12 months, but also one of the best. It takes what is superficially an emotionally manipulative premise and pulls it off expertly, with every drop of emotion from its story thoroughly deserved.
The film is about Oskar (newcomer Thomas Horn), a child of about 10 or 11 whose father (Tom Hanks) once set him puzzles and adventures, bringing him up as a boy not afraid to explore and use his talents. A great father, full of character and a man Oskar adored. Oskar’s a slightly odd kid and we’re given more than a hint that he could suffer from some degree of Asperger Syndrome which would explain some of his idiosyncratic behaviour, but he’s incredibly endearing. His dad dies on 9/11 and Oskar’s whole world becomes shocked and confused in his grief. A year after his father’s death, Oskar eventually finds the courage to re-enter his dad’s bedroom where he discovers an envelope in a vase with the word ‘Black’ written on it, containing a key. He takes this as a final puzzle he needs solve, but most importantly as a way to hold on to his Dad’s memory. Oskar’s very interested in science and he explains that if the sun exploded it would take us 8 minutes to realise and he uses this beautiful metaphor to explain his own denial and how the search for the key’s purpose lets him continue to hold on to his dad for now at least. Oskar embarks on a brave adventure throughout New York, sneaking away whenever he can to try and find out whether anyone with the surname Black can help him, whilst touching lives and trying to find personal comfort.
Oskar is a rather precocious and socially strange child but Thomas Horn’s performance is simply magnificent. For a child so young he gives a terrific and accomplished performance showing remarkable range well above his age. He is so central to the film and handles his role very delicately. Director Stephen Daldry proved how he can get the best out of child actors in Billy Elliot and he absolutely does it again. I find it interesting Max von Sydow has received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for this film. Whilst he’s fine as Oskar’s mute neighbour, I genuinely believe young Thomas Horn is deserving of real recognition for his leading role.
I personally loved the story. I can imagine quite a lot of people might find it slightly silly but despite its implausibility I bought into it completely because of the great writing and directing. It is incredibly sentimental but it’s a credit to Daldry for managing to capture so many moments with so much intensity and I just fell completely in love with the story’s adventure and sense of innocence mixed with such mature emotions. People may argue the 9/11 backdrop isn’t necessary to the story and just exploitative of sentiments easily manipulated in people’s hearts but it’s a story about how the emotions of a city can all hold together in union and it does this with really powerful effect. Obviously it’s impossible to guess exactly how the families of 9/11 victims might feel about this film, but the way it deals with loss, shock and trauma make me feel everyone will find it instantly identifiable. Personally, I find it difficult to believe anyone won’t feel moved on at least on occasion by this film as I struggled to keep my eyes dry throughout.
It’s great to see this film has picked up an Oscar nomination for ‘Best Film’ and although it might be fashionable to scorn at its sentimentality, it just shows that when done properly it can produce something extremely powerful and rather incredible. Loved it.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is out on 17th February in the UK. Running time 129 mins. Certificate 12a (UK).
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Review by David Rank