Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close represents all that is bad among the wasteful critical darlings of this year’s awards season. It’s more needlessly sentimental than The Help, duller and more didactic than War Horse, and more boring than My Week With Marilyn, Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady combined. In short, the film is a perfect cinematic encapsulation of everything that went wrong in 2011.
After his father (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trader Center on “the worst day,” ten-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) spends a year or so trapped worse than ever in the isolation of his tortured mind. (Oskar clearly has some form of Asperger’s syndrome, despite his incessant claims otherwise.) Then one day, between epic bouts of scrapbooking, ripping out his skin, hiding in his closet, and telling his mother (Sandra Bullock) that he wishes she was dead, Oskar finds a small key in his father’s closest.
In no time, Oskar is thumbing through phone books, writing down every instance of the name Black (which was printed on the envelope where the key was found), and soon sets off on a journey to find what the key unlocks.
And this is the exact moment where the film lost me. I had put up with Oskar’s constant manic-depressive episodes, Sandra Bullock’s look-at-me-I’m-really-trying acting and Tom Hanks’ futile performance, but when Oskar stood on a rock in Central Park and announced to us, via arguably the most annoying narration in the history of cinema, that he was going to visit every person with a Black surname in New York and its surrounding boroughs, I all but checked out.
For starters, because Oskar is afraid of seemingly everything, including public transportation, he opts to walk to the hundreds of “Black” homes. His first stop is in Brooklyn. Now, let’s think about this. A walk from the edge of Central Park to the edge of Brooklyn via the Williamsburg Bridge would take roughly two hours, even longer for a ten-year-old. So that’s minimum four hours (there and back) for one home. But considering the film’s fondness for montage, Oskar appears to hit about 10 homes a day. Continuity, so it seems, is not this film’s strongest quality.
As directed by the always well-intentioned Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader), Extremely Loud is an excessively long, terribly annoying, cringe-worthy misfire. Not even the likes of Max von Sydow (as a mute neighbor who accompanies Oskar on some of his journey) can save the film from its many weaknesses. (For the record, von Sydow earned his Supporting Actor nomination, but not above the likes of Albert Brooks and Ben Kingsley.)
The film, it must be said, has a resolution that I found oddly satisfying, which only managed to anger me more. Toward the end, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, two actors who have no idea how to do wrong, are relied on to deliver, which they do, and then some. But what’s five good minutes stuck underneath 120 minutes of pure garbage? Damaged goods, that’s what. D