I do not know where it exactly came from, but there are such polarizing reactions on Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that they seem to dwarf the film itself. Critics seem to dislike it, audiences tended to like it a little more (if the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes are to be taken with any grains of salt). In international screenings, I recall reading about one that had such an emotional reaction in Iraq that those who saw it applauded at the end while quietly sobbing. Some of those closers to the events of 9/11 liked the film, while others did not. With so many people falling on either side of the argument, I felt a curiosity about it that was worth exploring.
Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) adapted the Jonathan Safran Foer novel which Stephen Daldry (The Reader) directed. The center of the film's attention is Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn, in his first film role), an eleven-year old boy who as we learn in the film may have symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome and could possibly be autistic. That said, his relationship with his father Thomas (Tom Hanks, Larry Crowne) his great and with Oskar's mom/Thomas' wife Linda (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side), the family lives in New York and they get along superbly. Like many other New Yorkers, the Schell family changed on September 11, 2001, when Thomas, who had a meeting in the World Trade Center that day, died in the attacks. The family copes with the loss and Oskar discovers a key which may help him reinvigorate his connection to his father, and he sets off on an expedition (the two had done several through the years) to talk to people in the city to find out where and what the key unlocks. During his travels he runs into Abby (Viola Davis, The Help), who is still reeling from her husband leaving her. But the longest non-familial connect Oskar has in the movie is with that of a mute, who rents a room with Oskar's grandmother across the street and whom he names 'The Renter', and is played by Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal), who helps Oskar in his quest to find the mysterious lock.
Considering what most of the film handles, there is quite a sizable bit of emotional baggage that you experience during the course of the film, and both you and the characters experience it. Davis cries, Bullock cries, Horn cries, and many other lineless on-screen actors cry. And if there was something about Loud that was a distraction, it was the back and forth between focusing on Oskar's pursuit of the lock and on this emotional reconciliation, along with Linda's attempts to make a connection with her son, who shared a deeper and more powerful relationship with his Dad. That storyline and developments around it are under the surface of the story somewhat and their resolution is convenient, but they are there.
Along those same lines, Bullock's performance is somewhat of a mixed bag. There is a feel of slight authenticity to her performance, though in other areas it is competent and perfect in tone because the material sets it up to be that way. Von Sydow was a surprise Oscar nominee for his work in the film, and he shows so much emotion in his eyes during one of the last scenes in the film for his character it is heart wrenching. As a mini-rant, Christopher Plummer won this year's Oscar over Von Sydow and rightfully so, but Max is 82 years old and continues to hand in undervalued yet quality performances in his movie roles. Give the guy a lifetime Oscar already!
Continuing on the actors, for the little we see Hanks on screen he avails himself well, but the film is carried mainly by Horn and the Oskar character, and for a first-time actor Horn displays a bit of eccentricity along with suppressed emotion. After all, Oskar was home when Thomas started calling home when the planes hit. Oskar did not answer the phone when Thomas called for what proved to be moments before the second tower collapsed. Oskar's burden may be more than we know or comprehend and (despite his quirks not making things easier) the film tries to help us see his understanding through his eyes.
It is hard to pinpoint a consensus among those who panned Loud, but if the presumption that it is a film about September 11 is partially true; the majority of the film is about a young boy trying to gain some sort of cloture be it in his head or heart about the loss of his father. The film is not without flaws and some muddled storytelling, but the performances of Horn and Von Sydow certainly give enough for the viewer to consider and appreciate, regardless of your thoughts on the film itself.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The AVC encoded 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen presentation Warner gives Loud is surprisingly excellent. Image detail in the foreground is abundant, both in tighter shots when skin pores and hair can be discerned to a granular level, and textures in swing seats and in woods and asphalt. In a location late in the film, the New York night displays a consistently solid black level and is a great contrast against an office building of glass and lights. The colors all look vivid and flesh tones are natural and film grain can even be spotted during moments in the film as well. I had not expected such a fine transfer from Warner, and this film delivers on the quality.
The DTS-HD MA flavor is up to the task as well. The film's soundtrack would appear to be dialogue-driven on the surface, but there are a lot of sonically dynamic moments that occur (which I guess in retrospect would fit the 'Extremely Loud' portion of the bill), such as planes flying by, or cars going past Oskar on the streets of New York. Channel panning and directional effects are prevalent and sound clear and without concern. The dialogue does not disappoint either, being well balanced and without little adjustment in the center channel and the sound stage is broader than one would anticipate. This was good listening material to be sure.
As William Harrison covered in his review, the extras are decent, though I feel they are a little lacking. The "Making Of" the film (19:47) covers the usual ground that similar press kits tend to, with thoughts on the source material from the cast and crew, along with their thoughts on one another, and the work process undertaken to realize the film. "Finding Oskar" (7:50) examines where the producers found Horn, a former 'Kids Jeopardy!' contestant, and the cast shares their opinions on him and his work. "Ten Years Later" (11:25) interviews family members of 9/11 victims, and the film includes some of those images in the final cut, and the types of people lost in the attacks are recalled with fondness. The best piece may be "Dialogues with The Renter" (44:00), a piece on Von Sydow shot by his son. In it, the piece shows us how the actor works, his trying on of various makeup and prosthetics, and his work on set. It is shot very 'Fly on the wall' and natural, though the subject tends to share his opinions occasionally. It is an intriguing piece of film. The package also comes with a standard-definition copy of the film (where the stills for this review were taken from) and a digital copy of the film for UltraViolet accounts that you can download/stream accordingly.
Is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as bad as everyone seems to have been saying it is? No. Is it as good as some have been clamoring? I don't think so. It is not much of an opinion, but at its essence, it is a film about a confused kid trying to make sense out of the senseless. Technically the disc is a peach and from a bonus material perspective there is enough here to attract attention, and the film is worth your time and consideration. Do you want to buy it? Eh, not so much.