There are few who couldn’t tell you where they were when they heard about 9/11. It was truly one of those awful events, much like the death of John Lennon or the assassination of John F Kennedy, that is forever burned into our memory. What is really striking about the events of 9/11, though, was the total immersion that took place during and after. Around the world you could watch in real time, as events unfolded in Manhattan.
Such big, emotional and sad events immediately become part of history, and their effects bled into the culture of the planet. Considering the impact of that day and the events which followed, it’s surprising that there have been little more than a handful of films that deal with the subject. But Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, from director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), begins in the aftermath of 9/11, and the pain and hope suffered by a child who lost his father in the tragedy.
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn, who makes an outstanding feature film debut) is not like normal children. He is trapped in a city filled with things he is scared of, and he has trouble communicating his thoughts and feelings to anybody other than his father Thomas (Tom Hanks). A year after Thomas’ death in the 9/11 attacks, Oscar finds a key in an envelope marked ‘Black’, and believes it is one last puzzle his father has left him to solve – a way of allowing his father to live on with him rather than become a fading memory.
Distanced from his grieving mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) and helped sporadically by ‘The Renter’ (Max von Sydow) in his grandmother’s apartment, Oskar’s journey is one fuelled by grief and hope and questions as to why his father had to die. And once – or if – he solves the mystery of the key, where does he go from there?
What follows is a beautifully shot, beautifully acted film which takes your emotions and hits them again and again with a hammer. What it is missing, though, is a bit of a soul – which, when it comes to a movie dealing with such a tragic subject, is something you need to bring home the horror and the sense of loss. But total respect to Daldry, with his choice of leading child actor, who shows as much if not more promise than a young Jamie Bell did all those years ago in Billy Elliot. Horn’s approach and performance is spellbinding – he carries the entire movie, which is something, given that he’s not your run of the mill child actor, and came to the attention of the filmmakers after winning Teenage Jeopardy.
Horn is supported by a top notch cast of actors, including the now Oscar nominated Max von Sydow, whose mute performance perfectly fits into the movie, making a much louder mark than any speaking role could have, and Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, who add the level of gravitas that the movie requires.
What really lets this film down though, is that you just cannot bring to the screen the horror and the emotion that was felt during and after 9/11, feelings that are still raw, especially with the recent ten year anniversary which took place last summer. This isn’t just a problem for Extremely Loud – it’s a problem for all films that tackle this subject, and part of me thinks it may be a long while before something comes along that can do so.
Although nominated for an Oscar this year, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is by no means the best film to be released during the last 12 months. It is, however, a good, solid drama in the vein of Daldry’s other Oscar nominated fare, The Hours. But I suspect you’ll be left thinking more about the real people who lost their lives that day than the fictional characters here, which is both a strength and weakness for the movie as a whole.
Nothing can come close to replicating the feelings of that day or the grief of the bereaved, but Extremely Loud does represent the grief process honourably and honestly, and will strike a chord for anybody who has ever lost someone close to them.