There's a scene in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a mostly low-key drama dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where a boy imagines his father falling to his death from the World Trade Center. A shot depicts the father plunging through the air in slow motion, his limbs flailing, heading face first towards the camera. We all have memories of fleeting news shots of human beings falling to their deaths on that dreadful day. But director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) decided that wasn't enough. He had to jazz it up a little. So he digitally creates a "Wow!" moment, presenting a point of view never seen - thank God - in any actual footage of the tragedy.
What cheap exploitation. I'm surprised he didn't shoot it in 3D.
Extremely Loud, based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, tells the story of 11-year-old Oskar Schell (played by newcomer and Jeopardy Kids Week champion Thomas Horn), who is trying to deal with the loss of his devoted father (Tom Hanks) in the Twin Towers on what he calls the "Worst Day."
Oskar states he might have Asperger's syndrome (the "might have" allows writers to milk the syndrome without being fully pinned down by a formal diagnosis - The Big Bang Theory has been doing this for years). Dad spent great amounts of time coming up with games and puzzles to draw his son into social contacts with others. Oskar finds what he decides is a clue from his late father, a key in an envelope with the word "black" on it. The kid sets out to contact everyone named Black in the New York area, determined to solve his dad's puzzle and get ... a message? Closure? Whatever it is, he breezes past his distant mom (Sandra Bullock) each day to pursue his quest. They weren't close before 9/11. Now they're like strangers.
There's more. Max von Sydow becomes Oskar's traveling buddy about half way through the story. He's mute, communicating through a note pad and the "yes" and "no" tattooed on his left and right hands. The character is contrived, like much of the movie, but von Sydow makes him seem genuine. Thomas Horn is effective as Oskar, though I'm not sure if his performance is a skilled depiction of an individual with Asperger's, or just wooden readings from a neophyte. Playing an estranged couple, Viola Davis makes her cameo appearance count and Jeffrey Wright is heartbreaking as a troubled soul touched by Oskar's trek. As the parents, Hanks twinkles as Super-Dad and Bullock gets a wonderful scene late in the film.
Extremely Loud punched my emotional buttons, but not always in the way the filmmakers intended. 9/11 was the biggest shared experience of most of our lives. The memories of that day - the tragedy, heroism, pain, confusion, and above all the humanity - are sacred. I've yet to see a fictional movie about 9/11 that seemed necessary. Documentaries about the NYC attacks, the United Flight 93 hijacking and the overall tragedy have done justice to the events.
There are scenes in Extremely Loud that are moving and others that are mawkish. The sense of community that never seemed stronger than in the days after 9/11 shines through on occasion in the movie. I appreciated some of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but not enough to make up for Daldry's ham-handed manipulation and that miserable falling-dad shot that reduces one of the most nightmarish images we'll ever witness to a video game special effect.