Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Review

Deborah Palmer offers her debut review for the YellowJacket about the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

Why This Film?

Although “Etxtremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (ELIC) is not in theaters anymore, it is a recent movie release as a rental and in the iTunes store, and is just obscure enough as to be of interest but little known about. How did I find out about it? When I was still a high-school student, my sister came back for the winter holidays from college and brought with her a DVD of ‘Everything is Illuminated,’ starring Elijah Wood and directed by none other than Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth from “X-men Origins: Wolverine”).

The movie was about a young Jewish man traveling to the Ukraine to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape to the United States in World Ward II. The movie follows his adventures with his tour guides and their dog as they try to find this mysterious benefactor. The movie was upbeat if a bit somber at times, considering its subject material. The setting especially hit home with me, maybe because of my upbringing in a country bordered by Slavic provinces.

So what does this movie have to do with “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” apart from the unorthodox name? They are both based on novels of the same name, written by Jonathan Safran Foer. Based on this connection, I will be making light comparisons between the two movies, but will try to focus on ELIC for the review.

Summary

Oskar Shell (Thomas Horn) is a studious, neurotic, and socially awkward 9-year-old boy whose best friend seems be his father (Tom Hanks) until his untimely death during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before his father passed on, he had a habit of sending Oskar on creative wild-goose chases, which he calls Reconnaissance Expeditions. The goals of these challenges are to exercise Oskar’s mental abilities and to help him experience new things. The last expedition was to find the supposed ‘Sixth Borough’ of New York City, which was unfortunately left unsolved. A year after the “Worst Day” (9/11), Oskar finally collects the bravery to go into his father’s room and stumbles upon a key of unspecified origin as he looks through the closet. The only clue towards the key’s use is the word ‘Black’ on the envelope in which he found it. Desperate to keep his father’s memory alive, and despite his amplified phobias since 9/11, Oskar sets out on a personal Reconnaissance Expedition to find every person with the last name Black and to try the key in any lock he comes across in his journey. Throughout the story he struggles with his relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock), and is briefly accompanied by his grandmother’s mute, elderly tenant known only as ‘The Renter’(Max von Sydow).

Critique

Before discussing the young lead actor, I would like to briefly touch upon the adults. My bias has always been that Tom Hanks can do no wrong, and in this movie it is no different. He is same charming lovable self he tends to play, but one of his better scenes is actually when his voice has been recorded on the answering machine during the terrorist attacks. He conveys a slowly increasing panic,  despite the fact that he is trying to reassure his son that things will turn out fine. Sandra Bullock does a great job, too, in portraying a mother who is desperately trying to connect with her high-maintenance child after a tragic accident. Although she does not have quite as much screen time, I enjoy Zoe Caldwell’s performance as Oskar’s playful German grandmother, who occasionally assists him in his scavenger hunts. Arguably the most impressive performance, however, Max von Sydow as mute, traumatized Holocaust survivor. There are some other notable actors as well, (i.e. John Goodman) but it is now that I would like to speak about young Tom Horn.

It is common fact that child actors rarely are good, and since this is Horn’s official debut (his only other notable appearance was in an episode of Jeopardy), the scrutiny is even harsher. Despite Horn being a few years older than the character he plays, I think he portrays Oskar well enough. He’s precocious and inventive, but he still gives the character a naïve outlook on life. When he gets angry you can hear the frustration in his voice, but he also knows when to be subdued. All in all, the performance truly earned the awards it received.

Comparison

In “Everything is Illuminated,” Schreiber has Elijah Wood’s character learn about life in a vastly different culture than he accustomed to, In ELIC, Stephen Daldry (of ‘Billy Elliot’ fame) does something similarly, except Oskar is discovering life in his own surroundings. Although the music and camera work are vastly different, it is amazing how the original stories having the same writer can bring about the same familiarity. Daldry uses many creative swoops and cuts to keep the audience stimulated, whereas Schreiber is more minimalistic. The music is more somber in ELIC than its counterpart, yet both bring out a relaxing sensation.

The movie in itself is very heartwarming. At times it can be difficult to watch, such as the scene where Oskar and his mother have an argument. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and the swearing and insensitive remarks he makes are unfortunately really the way real children talk to their parents sometimes. The only thing that unnerves me is the way Oskar’s mother never seems to be aware of his gallivanting around town. True, it is said he lies to her about the nature of his trips, but until the end of the movie it seems like she pretty much is free-range parenting him.

Overall, I’d recommend “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” to everyone, provided you do not have anything against swearing children (few and far between) or long movies (2 hours and 10 minutes, including credits). I give this movie 4 1/2 out of 5 “Yellow Hoodies.” Until next time, how about you go on a ‘Reconnaissance Expedition’ of your own?

Written by Deborah Palmer.

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