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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Film Review By A.D.Harris

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With a tricky topic to get the balance right, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close describes itself as a film "not about 9/11, but about the days afterwards." This isn't strictly true, seeing as large chucks of Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel take place during that day. "That worst day," as it is referred to by our leading character and narrator Oskar Schell, is in fact of vital importance to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,

As we begin you see the shot of a man falling towards the ground, intentionally out of focus. As we listen to the flapping of his jacket, Daldry sets up his world's importance to sound. He wants you to listen to the noises, a purposeful message to show exactly why Oskar, still a child, finds walking the streets of New York difficult all the months after. Fire engines constantly pass by, aeroplanes buzz overhead, car honk their horns and people talk, scream and shout in almost every scene. When we get odd moments of silence they are broken by Oskar, he carries a tambourine around always to disguise the sounds that remind him of his own personal experiences of 9/11.

As the films opening act jumps backwards and forwards in time, there's no denying the vast array of talent all wanting a role in a film that still feels incredibly close to the bone and still relevant all these eleven years later. The biggest of those talents in Tom Hanks as Oskar's father Thomas, who was one of the many who lost their lives on the highest floors of the twin towers, and whose death has left a huge hole in Oskar's life. As warm, bubbly and homely as he always is, Hanks makes you truly care about Thomas in the short amount of screen time he gets, all in flashbacks as Oskar remembers his life before. It's an important hurdle for the film to get over, as without you falling in love with this man it would be hard for you to want to go along with Oskar on his journey.

This journey is what makes up the majority of the films storyline, Oskar finding a mysterious key in his fathers old wardrobe, believing it to be a continuation of the explorer challenges they used to do together. Clinging to all the memories he can of his father, and hoping to find some sort of message from beyond the grave, Oskar is totally focused on the connection he once had with Thomas by finding the lock which the key fits into. Rather ironically, Thomas himself is in fact key to the entire films successes and failures. Whilst his strong relationship with Thomas is never is doubt, his edgy personality, intellectual curiosity and sensitivity make him at times tough to spend time with. He mentions his parents once tested him for Aspergers syndrome but the results were in inconclusive, and it's this slight distance from the other characters that make him feel a little uncomfortable to be around. It's no fault of Thomas Horn, who excels in the role and makes it his own, and it's the strength of his performance that makes Oskar decent company to be in.

As all this journey unfolds, Oskar's mother, played by the as always exceptional Jodie Foster, finds herself struggling to cope with the loss of her husband and the distance that Oskar has put between them now that Thomas has gone from their lives. Whilst exceptional performances from Max Von Sydow, Viola Davis and John Goodman threaten to steal the show, it's Foster that manages to find the real emotional gravitas that get the eyes welling up, and several of her scenes with Thomas feel so incredibly raw, devastating and real you can't help but feel affected.

But this draws me to one of the criticisms that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close faces. It's decision to make Thomas' death in 9/11 is understandably powerful, but to watch it here almost feels like it is cheating the viewer's emotions. It already knows you have despair for the event prior to watching the film. Everyone cannot help but be affected by the situation it was so devastating. The fact is that Thomas did not need to die specifically in 9/11, so for the story to use it at times feels a little cheap.

Another issue the film encounters is there is some frustrating editing and cinematography from Daldry and his crew. Some scenes go from slow to frenetic in the blink of an eye, and at times it feels a little disorienting to watch. One scene where Oskar finds himself totally overwhelmed by the city is too much and pulls you out of the moment. It's a criticism that may sound petty, but it effects the tone Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is trying to set.

Such criticisms aside, there is no denying that it manages to craft a beautiful and haunting vision of sorrow for just one story that could and more than likely did happen for many people after 9/11. You can't help but hope that they find the peace that was always inevitably going to come for Oskar and his mother. As the revelation of the key takes a couple of twists and turns you didn't see coming, one for the better, you see exactly the point that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Beautiful was trying to make.

Yes, it may be set during 9/11, but at the heart of it that doesn't even matter. It is about dealing with loss, and how horrifying and terrible situations can still turn around. It is about the fact it is possible to move on and connect with people again. It is possible to be happy...

As the loud sounds of New York fade out into the peaceful quiet of the credits, you'll find yourself feeling uplifted rather than downhearted.

I'm sure, like the many people similar to Thomas Schell who lost their lives that day, they would be happy to know their families were able to smile again.



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Twitter: @AdDHarris
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