MANILA, Philippines – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is both a novel and a movie, and both have the shared distinction of being critically derided almost equally, for being contrived, ineffectual tearjerkers which employ the 9/11 tragedy as takeoff point.
The movie adaptation, however, is not without its merits.
With Stephen Daldry directing, fine portrayals of fictitious characters abound, such as by Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, and most notably, newcomer Thomas Horn and oldtimer Max Von Sydow.
The latter’s wordless performance is a rewarding sight, engaging as that of lead star Thomas, despite the lead character being an abrasive boy named Oskar. (He may as well be called Oskar the grouch.) Horn, a movie debutante who had been a top winner on the kids’ edition of Jeopardy!, is reminiscent of the very young and determined Christian Bale in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.
Extremely Loud’s photography is swell as well, with accomplished lensman Chris Menges framing the proceedings with understated beauty and, in the scenes where the attacked Twin Towers are involved, with delicate restraint. (An erstwhile director, Menges’ cinematography work includes The Killing Fields and The Mission.)
The story itself is not without pluses. Taking after novelist Jonathan Saffran Foer’s 2005 book, scriptwriter Eric Roth (whose writing work on an earlier Hanks flick, Forrest Gump, lingers, for better or worse) fashions a symbolic take on 9/11 America.
In depicting several, unrelated people who are all surnamed “Black” as differing in age, gender, race, attitude and preoccupation, Extremely Loud visibly stresses that all those affected by that terrorist attack since 11 years back are individuals and not nameless statistics.
Where’s the key?
The story’s main plot point, of a discovered key whose matching lock has remained unfound, echoes the elusiveness of a satisfying closure for everyone affected by “the worst day,” as Oskar calls it.
The boy’s ill-mannered stance, attributed to an unverified bout with Asperger syndrome, can be a mirror to the rage inherent in the anguished loved ones of 9/11 victims.
And Max Von Sydow’s character, a war survivor who had stopped talking for good from having witnessed a World War II bombing, portrays the opposite extreme: those so overwhelmed by the new-millennium catastrophe as to be rendered speechless, emotionally mute.
Beyond all that, however, and despite the large-scale, horrific event that inspired it, Extremely Loud is curiously unaffecting. At 129 minutes, it comes off as a would-be epic yet unravels rather uneventfully here and there to be thoroughly involving.
In fact, an unlikely thought crossed my mind during one of the flick’s middling moments: Some Philippine-made dramas of yonder are better than this.
And despite the then prevailing climate of fear and heightened safety precautions in the USA post-9/11, the pre-teen Oskar is able to wander across New York City by himself, day or night, without incident.
As dramas and movies per se go, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is okay.
Perhaps we can look back to it someday as a stepping stone to the great, truly cathartic 9/11 movie that, for now, has yet to be made. – Rappler.com
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