Is it possible to write a love note to 9-11? To love that this American tragedy can paint the perfect back-drop for a movie seemed to be the over-arching theme to the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, an adaptation of the book written by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The story follows Oskar Schell, a young boy whose father died in Tower One on Sept 11th 2001. Oskar finds a key, accepts that it was left as a clue by his father, and starts a journey across the five boroughs to search for the lock it opens.
I leave the description brief because so much of the film builds around the discoveries made by Oskar on his journey. I am also brief because it is impossible to summarize the complex and emotional story in a way that would not come across as trite.
Therein lies the rub.
In the book, Foer can take the time to explain and construct such an elaborate reality that the story, even the attacks on the Twin Towers, seem like elegant yet painful fiction. The problem with this film adaptation is there is just not enough time. No time to show the flashbacks, no time for the Renter story, no time for the relationships. Unfortunately, the film uses 9-11 to garner the emotion and sadness. Indeed, this is a sad film, the images of the towers falling, the news clippings and the actions of that day are one no American can forget. But while that day, “the worst day,” as Oskar calls it, is the hub of this wheel, the spokes are what hold things together and provide support — the spokes being the side stories and developments and images that are so beautiful. Without the spokes, this movie falls apart.
The casting of Oskar Schell was spot-on. Gut-wrenching performances from a newcomer Thomas Horn. He plays the odd, amateur-inventor with the ease of a veteran actor. The character of Oskar, without proper direction, could come across as unrelatable. Ironically, Oskar is thought to have Asperger’s Syndrome, and his inability to understand his family’s tragedy makes the audience connect with him more.
The roles of Oskar’s parents are played by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock — both of whom were adequate. The real supporting star is Max Von Sydow, who portrayed the Renter. Without speaking a word, he brought even more questions to a boy who was already searching for answers. He acts as a guide for Oskar and helps him find the strength to stop. Pared down to yes/no questions, the Renter is one of the most interesting and complex characters in all of fiction.
Overall, this film is watchable, slightly pandering and really really sad. The sadness is forced upon you, not by Oskar’s story, but because the story happens to take place with the backdrop of 9-11. The effect is cloying and disrespectful in a way the book was not. Anyway, bring tissues. And if you are a fan of the 2005 book, do yourself a favor and do not reread the book beforehand. Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that it is an adaptation.