Film review | Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Extremely awkward and incredibly whimsical more like

After tackling the Holocaust in his last film, The Reader, director Stephen Daldry takes on the trauma of 9/11 with this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s bestselling novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Precocious 10-year-old Oskar (newcomer Thomas Horn) lost his father (played in flashbacks by Tom Hanks) in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A fretful, ferociously clever, borderline autistic boy who may or may not have Asperger’s, Oskar understandably becomes even more fearful of the world at large and emotionally cut off from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock).

Then, a year after the tragedy, he finds among his father’s possessions a key inside a small envelope marked with the name ‘Black’. Believing that he can re-connect with his dead father if he finds the lock to which the key belongs, he resolves to visit all the Blacks in the New York telephone directory, accompanied on some of his expeditions by the elderly mute man (Max von Sydow) who lodges in his grandmother’s flat.

Oskar’s quest is his way of dealing with his loss, and by extension, the city’s; yet I’m not convinced that the story’s conceit can support the burden placed upon it, notwithstanding Daldry‘s best efforts. He reproduces the book’s child’s-eye view of the world, but what seemed a gimmicky device on the page feels even more awkwardly whimsical and implausible on screen.

With his long list of eccentricities and quirks – he carries around an Israeli gas mask, whistle, binoculars and a tambourine he shakes to ward off his fears – Oskar appears too much like a self-indulgent author’s wilfully odd creation rather than a convincing child.

Even so, the film is skilfully put together and the acting excellent. First-time actor Horn impresses as Oskar, Hanks radiates warmth and geniality as his father, while Oscar-nominated Von Sydow’s totally silent but remarkably expressive performance speaks volumes.

On general release from Friday 17th February.

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