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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area


    [Review: Chris Knipp]


    Running from emotion in all the five burroughs

    There don't seem to have been many post-9/11 movies. To see how you feel about this shortage, consider the new movie by English director Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It is adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's bestselling 2005 novel about a precocious youth of nine who loses his father in the World Trade Center. Young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) thereafter goes on an obsessive hunt, interviewing over a period of many months more than 400 people named Black in all the five boroughs of New York (largely on foot, because he doesn't trust public transportation) to find the lock that will fit a key his father left behind. In so doing he consciously seeks to stretch out the "eight minutes," the period it will take before we know that the sun has gone out. In other words, by concocting an all-absorbing treasure hunt such as his father played with him to overcome his phobias, Oskar tries to put off actually coping with his father's death.

    This systematic treasure hunt -- with its implausibly lucky finale -- may or may not really delay the boy's tragic sense of loss; but it fills up most of the running time of the film. Whether or not the result is edifying for us is yet another question. This doesn't seem offhand like the best way to tell a story about coping with loss. Oskar is hyperarticulate, monomaniacal, and borderline Asperger's (he's been tested but the results were "inconclusive") -- the kind of person who can't deal with emotion well. Sometimes Extremely Loud seems like the doodles of a bright little boy.

    Apart from the underlying dubiousness of the story itself there are serious questions about the casting of the main supporting roles for Daldry's film version. The first person named Black, who as it happens also is black, and who is to weep -- isn't it seriously stacking the deck for her to be played by the queen of sorrows, Violoa Davis? The soulful mother and widow -- why does she have to be played by the cornpone queen of authentic on-your-sleeve emotion, Sandra Bullock? Worst of all, why should Thomas Schell, the lost father of this bright little Jewish family, be played by Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks? Again, for the cozy, cornpone wholesomeness that the filmmakers are determined to inject into the proceedings. Likewise the casting of the lean, attractively grizzled Max Von Sydow as the mysterious, mute grandfather, whose note-writing communication grows tired and over-cute very soon but goes on and on. Valid casting, or just audience attention-grabber? Who'd have thought that fifty years after his archetypal role as the Knight in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal Von Sydow would be playing a cute mute in New York?

    But in one central respect, this movie is a complete winner in the casting department. The filmmakers found a bright boy named Thomas Horn, winner of a teen version of "Jeopardy!" and persuaded him to play Oskar. Horn is quite adorable, very articulate, very smart -- and perfectly right. It's undiluted fun to watch him and listen to him. He is terrific. In Thomas Horn Daldry's film takes us, whenever he is speaking -- and his voice both on scene and in voice-over dominates the film -- pell-mell into a believable post-J.D. Salinger world of super-sensitive, super-intelligent young New Yorkers. Everything else (well, very nearly everything -- not the excellent Jeffrey Wright as Viola Davis' estranged husband) may be hokey, but Thomas Horn is a gem. Asperger's boys do make attractive narrators, quirkily articulate, just disconnected enough from the normal feelings to make readers do some feeling of their own. We saw that in Mark Haddon's page-turner, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Through young Master Horn, Extremely Loud comes to life. Too bad he doesn't have something more worthwhile to do.

    There seems to be a kind of patness about the material Stephen Daldry likes to choose for his films, from spunky mining town boy ballet saga (Billy Elliot) through Michael Cunningham's comfortable art-house literary parallelisms in The Hours to the neat contrasts and gentle shocks of Bernhard Schlink's before-and-after Nazi story, The Reader, with Kate Winslet as a sexy death camp employee. This is no better. Foer's novel, with the elaborate drudgery of its postmodern rifs, here reduced to autistic hide-and-seek games, is a far-fetched way indeed of dealing with the September 11 attacks. Its playful invention is twee -- or simply wide of the mark, despite the undeniable pyrotechnic displays of cleverness. It would take a literary genius on the level of David Foster Wallace to inject a sweaty passion and sincereity into such maniacal ADD behavior and Wallace wouldn't have relied on a single childish sensibility. When the story does get real, on screen, in through-the-window Twin Towers shots and a series of increasingly excruciating phone messages from WTC-trapped Tom to the Schell home phone, it's just button-pushing of the crudest sort.

    But Daldry is good at what he does, and, carried along by the boy's smart, jaunty, articulate voice, I watched this movie with considerable pleasure, buoyed by the good editing rhythms, the polished acting (casting aside), the bright, handsome cinematography of Chris Menges; the sweeping, sometimes suspiciously Philip Glass-like music (done at the last minute, apparently) of Alexandre Desplat; and the writing by Eric Roth, whose screenplay, much revised, apparently, seems to have ruthlessly cut details from the book, so that Oskar's description in a card his father had made for him as a "jeweler" and "francophile," among other roles, makes little sense to us. The product is an audience-pleaser, an audience-mesmerizer. For the time that you watch it, it makes sense. Afterwards, you realize that the tragic material of September 11, 2001 that its protagonist tries to process is still too fresh, new, and horrific to deal with and remains equally raw, undigested and untransformed when the movie is over and its tasteful credits roll. In contrast, Rachid Bouchareb's 2009 London River, just briefly shown in NYC (Dec. 2011) was a nice contrast, a more adult, humble and human treatment of two people coping with the July 7 London terrorist bombings. Not a great film perhaps, but one that confronts emotions straightforwardly.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-09-2012 at 10:49 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Utah, USA

    Hanging In There, Beating Out Its Competition

    After six weeks of release, Extremetly Loud and Incredibly Close is demonstrating its staying power as the public keeps the movie in the Top Ten, declining only 28.9% from last week. So far, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has surpassed the per theater revenue of its other six week release movies - The Girl with the Dragoon Tatoo, War Horse, We Bought a Zoo, and The Adventures of Tin Tin, and even the three week old Joyful Noise, Beauty and the Beast, and Contraband.


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