Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Oskar’s tale is worthy, but not Oscar worthy

Before giving this review, I need to first make one point very clear: the Oscars have always nominated films deemed overrated by the general public.  Sometimes it seems like they are too formulaic, too preachy, too overenthusiastic to make a sweeping statement about humanity told innumerable times before. But it is not really fair to judge something harshly just because it may be over-glorified by others, and film reviews like this must be handled accordingly.  But is the film actually noteworthy?  Well, that is an entirely different question.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close involves an autistic boy named Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), his mystery-centred connection with his father Thomas (Tom Hanks), and 9/11.  Even without any spoilers on my part, most people could guess that this story explores the impact of loss during childhood.  Indeed, it does not help Oskar’s connection with his now-devastated, widowed mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), nor does it assist in his struggles in social environments.  Eventually, a key is found in his father’s closet, and Oskar keeps the past alive by searching to find its place.  But it may be his future that is found instead. (Because the key’s unlocking his heart!  Get it?  See the poetic symbolism?)

All corny jokes aside, many award-baiting elements are present – several Oscar-noted actors, the director of The Reader, a kid linked with autism (topical disorder of the decade).  And in spite of being raised close to New York City, I have absolutely no problem with it addressing 9/11 – because after all, this is an adaptation from a bestselling novel. But it needs to be done in good taste; and by “good taste”, I mean having a likeable protagonist.

It is not that the child actor playing Oskar is completely terrible, but it never seemed like we could relate to his emotional states, which often came across as self-absorbed and unsympathetic to others at best.  In a film about loss on 9/11.  I’m sorry, but when a child tells a parent, “I wish you were in the towers instead” (multiple times!), I check out emotionally.  When complimented with drawn-out dialogue and atrociously pretentious narration by Horn (“People living over the dead”?  Is the film not ham-fisted enough?), the first hour was near-unbearable.

But then he encounters a mute stranger known as “The Renter”, played by Max von Sydow.  Make no mistake, he’s getting nominations for saving this film, conveying more with facial expressions and a notepad than director Stephen Daldry ever does.  It presents a character that’s truly unique, displays a relationship that forces Oskar to grow, and in turn, gives much less need for narration.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Oskar actually starts to come across like a real kid – albeit one that likely had issues way before his father died, but one who we can empathize with during his pain.

So this film frustrates me.  The first half is terrible, while the second half had me emotional multiple times.  So I guess ending on a high note makes it…pretty decent.  But with more daring edits to the screenplay, better pacing, and a delivery that doesn’t seem so manipulative, we would likely not need to wonder why it got nominated for Best Picture.  As it stands, we do and rightfully (and sadly) so.

By Ian Clemente