Maybe this film isn’t as bad as my title suggests but I couldn’t resist making fun of it when there are so many possibilities. So why did someone like me who so closely monitors reviews see this film? Because I make it my mission every year to see every film nominated for best picture and I suppose every film deserves it’s day in court. Although now I can tell you that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is probably the least interesting Oscar nominated movie I’ve seen since The Reader, also a Stephen Daldry film. I wouldn’t go as far saying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a bad movie, it’s just really average, and hardly Oscar quality. A lot of critics have gone as far to saying that this movie is offensive and I think I can see why, but I’ll get to that later.
Oscar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a bright but emotionally awkward young boy coping with the death of his father (Tom Hanks) who died in 9/11. From flashbacks we learn that Oscar’s father used to send him on scavenger hunts or “reconnaissance missions” to teach him life lessons. A year later in 2002 Oscar discovers a key in an envelope marked “Black” in his father’s closet and believes this to be a final mission. Oscar then sets out by tracking down everyone with the last name of “Black” in all of New York in an attempt to discover the key’s secret. It’s a ridiculous premise but still interesting to watch how it unfolds, at least it would be if it wasn’t bogged down by so much melodrama.
In-between all the searching we get a lot of flashbacks of Oscar and his mom (Sandra Bullock) dealing with their grief. I understand this is a story that uses 9/11 to setup the chain of events but I’d much rather see the story progress than watch scene after scene of Oscar and his mom yelling and crying at each other. Thomas Horn gives a strong performance as Oscar but his character is so unsympathetic and annoying that I just wish he’d shut the hell up. Oscar is rude, insensitive, and a real know-it-all, which makes it really hard for to get behind his little self-centered scavenger hunt. The other characters feel fairly stock although ably performed, most notably Max Von Sydow as a mute renter living with Oscar’s grandmother. A lot of people have criticized Von Sydow getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination but it is my opinion that it’s deserved, I just would of liked to see him say something.
So what makes Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close insensitive? A lot of critics have pointed out a recurring cutaway shot of a jumper falling from the sky. It’s an odd choice but it didn’t make me uncomfortable until referenced in a later scene. Later there’s a scene where Oscar is showing the mute renter pictures of a jumper on 9/11 that Oscar believes is his father. Not only is that morbid thought for a child to have but it seems insensitive to the people that actually did jump from the towers. Using such a tragic occurrence as an artistic statement or plot device feels like an insult. Even worse Oscar puts together a scrapbook that has a page where you pull out a tab and a man falls from a drawing of a man falls from a drawing of the towers. I’m sure they had some kind of message but the visual is so dark and depressing, it makes me very uncomfortable.
Aside from all the iffy handling of sensitive subject matter this film is fairly drawn out. Eric Roth, known for his lengthy and complexly detailed screenplays like Forrest Gump and Curious Case of Benjamin Button adapted the story but unlike those other two films this one is missing a key element “humor”. I’m aware this is serious subject matter but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some lighter moments as well. I suppose this film had some of those moments but they are so few and far between. The movie may have an intriguing mystery that’s somewhat entertaining but it’s too much of bummer. This isn’t the worse film but is it the worst film to ever be nominated for Best Picture? Maybe, I guess the Academy just loves the schmaltzy melodrama of Stephen Daldry.