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June 8, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

by Franz Patrick


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Thomas (Tom Hanks) and Oskar (Thomas Horn) of Schell & Son Jewelers had always been close. Both were intellectually curious about their surroundings and they nurtured this passion by throwing a Reconnaissance Expedition, a game where Oskar’s father would leave clues all over New York City and Oskar would follow them until he reached the final nugget of knowledge in his journey. When Thomas died in the September 11 attacks, Oskar found himself on a permanent state of grief. A year later, while reaching for his father’s camera, he accidentally broke a blue vase which contained an envelope with the name Black written on it. Inside the envelope was a key and Oskar made a personal promise that he would find whatever the key opened. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” tried so hard to be moving, I found myself focusing on its techniques in order to amplify the drama, like the perfectly timed melancholy score and facial close-ups right when someone was about to be reduced to tears, instead of being really immersed in the story. I was interested in what was going on, especially during the parts where Oskar met with various New Yorkers whose last names ended with Black. Unfortunately, such scenes that promised multiculturalism and possible unique perspectives in terms of interpreting and dealing with life and death weren’t given enough screen time to reach emotional honesty. Instead, the picture relied on shallow quirks through images. While I remembered Abby Black (Viola Davis) and her husband (Jeffrey Wright) because of the high-profile actors who played them, I couldn’t remember much about the woman with the five noisy kids, the man who gave hugs every other second, or the elderly people who lived by themselves or in care homes. I began to wonder whether I would’ve remembered Abby and her husband if they were played by actors who were not as recognizable. The filmmakers quickly flew over the potentially interesting supporting characters yet they were brazen enough to summon flashbacks later on to get an emotional response from the audience. On that level, I did find it somewhat emotionally manipulative which I wouldn’t have felt otherwise if we were allowed to spend more time with them and get to know their stories. After all, one of the lessons that the film attempted to impart was the universality of grief and although we may deal with the emotion differently, we could all relate to one another because we’ve all lost someone. Instead, the majority of the running time was dedicated to cementing Oskar’s inability to relate to others like spending copious amount of time in his room and specifying his fears. He mentioned that he was tested for Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism, but the tests weren’t definitive. It explained why only a very select few, one of them his father, truly understood him. Those he didn’t feel close to, like his mother (Sandra Bullock), were pushed to the side. Although some of the images summoned when Oskar felt trapped were quite impressive, the pacing slowed down considerably due to repetitiveness. It tested my patience; it was and it felt like over two hours long. Based on the screenplay by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” was a lesson in the importance of prioritizing. While I understood Oskar’s detachment and why he might come across as irksome because of his autism, it couldn’t be denied that Horn’s acting at times was a bit green. It was another reason why the filmmakers should have dedicated more time on Oskar’s encounters with the people he hoped to hold an answer.

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