Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on Blu-ray
Any film that brushes up against terribly painful, real-life events runs the risk of leaving its obligations to those affected by the event unfulfilled. Indeed, there’s never been a film that uses the attacks of September 11th in way that didn’t feel a bit exploitative to me. The closest to feeling anywhere near appropriate was Paul Greengrass’s United 93. And the worst, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center in 2006 (I’m sure there are worse offenders, I just chose not to see them). While these two films were much closer to 2001, the idea that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close would use the 9/11 attacks as a plot device seemed too soon, and overall an unwelcomed idea.
Extremely Loud is the second novel written by Jonathan Safran Foer, who also wrote the novel Everything is Illuminated. It was not as well received as his first. In fact John Updike, in a review in the New York Times, called it “thinner, overextended, and sentimentally watery.” A phrase that passes along to apply to the eventual film. The novel was adapted for the big screen by Eric Roth, whose recent credits include the overextended and sentimental The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Good Shephard. I have not read the novel. Stephen Daldry directs and you may remember his last mess of a film (that still managed to garner two Oscar nominations) The Reader.
Extremely Loud‘s lead is a boy named Oskar Schell, played by an extremely talented boy named Thomas Horne. Oskar has anxieties and behaviorial problems that lead his parents to test him for Asperger’s Syndrome, although results were inconclusive. His father is Thomas, an American every-man played by Tom Hanks. He’s a flawless father to Oskar, partly because he never had one of his own. He spends endless amounts of time with Oskar, being his best friend, creating games that force him to try and overcome his social shortcomings. His loving wife, Oskar’s mother, Linda, is played by Sandra Bullock. These three are a happy, happy family.
Things change on September 11th, when Thomas is killed in one of the towers. Linda is nearly devastated, and Oskar can’t enter his father’s room for a year. When he does, he finds a key that he’s sure his father left him. He believes finding the lock the key matches is the final expedition his father prepared for him. Here is where we find the bulk of the movie: Oskar bounding around New York, interviewing people, looking for the lock, telling his story and hearing their’s.
Films of these sorts (those concerning real life tragedies) try and humanize such enormous tales by focusing on a few characters, examining the effects it has on said characters. The risk of such an attempt is that it trivializes what actually happens. Or it becomes overly trite, or overly sentimental. For a while, Extremely Loud walks this fine line, between good cinema and exploitative cinema. But as the idealized flashbacks of Hanks continues, as the revelations surrounding Oskar become more and more fantastic, Extremely Loud decides it’d rather go for sentimentality. This is a move that actually served the film well in some regards. It even landed it a Best Picture nomination according to the Academy’s ridiculous new rules about the category. But it seems like cheating to tell the audience it’s feeling emotions for the characters, when really, it’s tied to a much more serious reason. Daldry will deftly pull at your heartstrings. But once the moment passes, you’ll feel a bit used.
The Blu-ray’s special features lay it on thick with a few featurettes about the attacks, and how this film has touched and honored the victims’ families. There’s also a peculiar featurette without any narrative that basically follows von Sydow around while he’s getting hair and makeup, or relaxing between scenes, or practicing scenes. It’s a bit strange.
Here’s the full list of special features:
- Making Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, director Stephen Daldry and others discuss the artistic challenges of translating the bestselling novel into the acclaimed film.
- Finding Oskar: Young newcomer and leading man Thomas Horn makes an extremely indelible impression on his award-winning costars and director.
- Ten Years Later: The extraordinary circumstances surrounding a 9/11 victim’s photo on the memorial wall are shared by filmmakers, family members and Tuesday’s Children volunteers.
- Max von Sydow: Dialogues with The Renter: An insightful documentary by the son of Oscar nominee Max von Sydow highlights his father’s compelling performance, the collaboration with director Stephen Daldry and the actor’s friendship with his young costar.
The Warner Brothers provided BFR with a free Blu-ray for this article.