Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, with it precocious young narrator and references to 9/11, received a bit of flak when it was nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. Some felt having nine-year-old Oskar Schell lose his beloved father in the World Trade Center collapse was distasteful and emotionally manipulative. However, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, is really about a community dealing with deep-rooted loss as observed through Oskar's eyes. First-time actor Thomas Horn gives a tremendous performance as the confused, tormented Oskar, and, while the character may be grating to some, the film weaves an interesting story of grief and reconciliation.
On the "worst day," Oskar comes home from to school to find several messages from his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), on the answering machine. Thomas called to say he is stuck in one of the World Trade Center towers. He does not make it home to Oskar or to his wife, Linda (Sandra Bullock). Before his death, Thomas was a patient, creative father to a challenging child. Oskar has phobias and irrational fears, carries a tambourine to calm his nerves, and refuses to use a swing set, take public transportation or cross bridges. At one point, Oskar tells a companion that he took several tests for something called "Asperger's" that were inconclusive. As an outlet for Oskar's intelligence and energy, Thomas devised scavenger hunts so Oskar would have to talk with many people around New York City. Soon after his father's funeral, Oskar finds a key hidden in a vase in Thomas's closet, and concludes that locating the corresponding lock is a final scavenger hunt from his dad.
Oskar is an interesting narrator. He lacks a filter, and spits out words furiously. Oskar is often humorous, and goes toe to toe with the grouchy doorman (John Goodman) at his apartment building and his exasperated grandma (Zoe Caldwell). As written in Foer's book, Oskar can be a bit of a smartass, but this may be the result of an autism-related diagnosis hinted at in both the book and movie. Oskar discovers the name "Black" written on the envelope that holds the key, and vows to visit the hundreds of families with that last name in the five boroughs in hopes of finding the key's purpose. Along the way he meets a host of interesting people who respond with care and compassion to his story, including recent divorcee Abby Black (Viola Davis). Oskar also meets and befriends "the Renter" (Max von Sydow), a mute man rooming with his grandma that speaks by writing in a notepad or flashing the words "yes" or "no" that are tattooed on his hands.
At its core, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a story about Oskar making sense of the great tragedy that up-ended his life. After Thomas's death, Linda struggles to control and nurture Oskar. At one point, Oskar absolutely unloads on his mom, criticizing her parenting and inability to explain why his dad was killed. An overwhelmed Linda tells Oskar that his dad's murder simply does not make sense, and it probably never will. That Thomas's death was senseless and unexpected is crucial to the story. Using 9/11 may not have been the only option, but it works because it allows those Oskar comes into contact with to share in his grief. New York City is an integral part of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Oskar's trips throughout the city reveal its culture and spirit.
Director Stephen Daldry (The Reader) crafts a handsome, well-paced film, and pulls a great performance out of Horn, who was discovered on Jeopardy! Kids Week in 2010. Hanks is a perfect everyman father, and he provides a loving sanctuary for Oskar. Bullock is not on screen much but handles her grief-stricken performance well, and Sydow is wonderful in a role that requires him to express his emotions without speaking. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, with its atypical child narrator and heavy subject matter, never buckles under its good intentions, and remains an entertaining portrait about overcoming tragedy.
The Blu-ray's 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is excellent. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a beautifully shot film, with warm colors and excellent composition, and the transfer supports this look. Detail is excellent throughout; from facial features to background objects, everything is visible. The image displays great depth and texture, and skin tones are natural. Colors are warm and well saturated, and the New York City skyline appears vibrant. Black levels are solid, and no digital noise or tinkering is present.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is subtle but effective, with crisp, clean dialogue and excellent range. Action effects are limited, but the sounds of New York City's streets, subways and parks immerse the viewer during Oskar's journey. Dialogue and effects pans are impressive, and the film's quieter moments never lose their clarity or impact. The score is deep and well integrated, and provides support for the drama. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close receives the typical Warner Brothers "combo pack" treatment. The two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and an insert with a code to stream an UltraViolet digital copy. The discs are housed in a Blu-ray eco-case that is wrapped in a matching slipcover. The extras are as follows:
- Making Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (19:47/HD) - This piece follows the production of the film, from adapting Foer's bestselling novel to finding the right Oskar to shooting on location in New York City. The cast and crew interviews reveal the connection many felt with the novel, and the behind-the-scenes footage shows Daldry at work.
- Finding Oskar (7:50/HD) - Young actor Horn was plucked from Jeopardy! to star in the film. This featurette reveals that he was comfortable on set with stars Hanks and Bullock despite never having shot a film.
- Ten Years Later (11:25/HD) - The filmmakers discuss 9/11 and their personal connections to the tragedy. This piece reveals that the crew used the image of Daniel McGinley, a broker who died in the South Tower on 9/11 and the relative of someone in the film's art department, in the film's 9/11 remembrance wall. The film also honors Stephen Mulderry, the son of another crewmember, who also died on 9/11. Friends and family members share stories about each of the men and relate the experiences of others who lost loved ones on 9/11.
- Max von Sydow: Dialogues with the Renter (44:00/HD) - This lengthy piece, compiled by the actor's son, provides excellent on-set footage of Sydow at work with his young co-star. These rough and alternate takes really give a sense of how scenes are molded and perfected.
- BD-Live Portal - Warner Brothers provides its usual BD-Live gateway.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, follows precocious Oskar Schell as he searches for the meaning of a key his father left behind when he died on 9/11. Thomas Horn gives an impressive first performance as Oskar, whose fears and quirks compound his grief and confusion over his father's death. The story is about loss and communal grief, and New York City is a vibrant background for Oskar's adventures. Max von Sydow is also memorable as a mute man who communicates by writing his thoughts and accompanies Oskar as he searches for a lock to fit his key. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.