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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 02:15 pm

Extremely Loud and ridiculous

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Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell and Tom Hanks as Thomas Schell Jr. in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Some 10 years later, we’re still trying to come to terms with the attacks of 9/11. Perhaps the most important aspect of art is that it allows us to examine tragedies of this sort in an attempt to understand their impact and perhaps take some steps towards healing from them. This is the intent of Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Eric Roth’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a story with the best of intentions that’s undercut with such absurdity that I was left aghast over what the director felt an audience would accept as logical.

Told in flashback, the film focuses on Oskar (Thomas Horn), a 10-year-old whose father Thomas (Tom Hanks) was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Still grieving, as is his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), the boy finds a key in his father’s belongings that’s marked with the name “Black.” Having done many expeditions with his father, scavenger hunts fashioned so that Oskar could educate himself on a variety of subjects, the boy decides to track down the owner of the key, hoping it will provide him with some final answers about his father.

As Oskar sets out on his quest, the film gets more and more ridiculous, driving this viewer to incredulously throw his hands in the air and mutter repeatedly, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I find it hard to believe that a woman, having just lost her husband, would allow her 10-year-old son to traipse around New York’s five boroughs (using public transportation!?!) on a wild goose chase. Even more absurd is the ease with which all of the various “Blacks,” all 257 of them, let Oskar into their lives. While we get an after-the-fact explanation for this, it simply doesn’t hold water, especially when a distraught woman (Viola Davis) takes him under her wing as her own life is falling apart. And please, don’t get me started on the solution that emerges from his quest. Accepting this at face value requires a leap of faith that even the most devout would be unable to make.

While the film is a narrative disaster, it does contain two performances of note. Bullock is far more genuine here than she was in her overrated Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side. Her grief is palpable and the sincerity she invests runs counter to the film’s insulting, manipulative approach. Even better is Max von Sydow as a mysterious boarder in Oskar’s grandmother’s apartment. Having suffered a severely traumatic event decades earlier, he’s vowed never to speak again, communicating via notes or with his hands upon which he’s scrawled “yes” and “no.” This role is right in the veteran actor’s wheelhouse and he runs with it. Communicating a life of heartbreak as well as subtle encouragement with facial expressions and subtle movements, von Sydow conveys what true grief and healing are, avoiding the stifling treacle that prevents the film from being taken seriously.

Insufferable, insulting, absurd and trite, Loud is a crass melodrama masquerading as catharsis. Not only does it manage to insult its audience but in using the defining event of the last 20 years as the backdrop for an amateur sleuth story it reduces this tragedy to nothing more than an elaborately rendered plot point for a film that fails to honor its victims. Had this film been deafeningly quiet and astonishingly distant, it would have been a far more effective tribute.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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