Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Blu-ray ReviewApril 03, 2012
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a movie that's as confused and scatterbrained as its protagonist.
The movie has a good heart, and it wants to have a profound effect on our own hearts. The story of one boy's attempt to make sense of his father's death in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, is one that has strong roots, and it's one that would resonate beautifully if only the movie would get out of its way.
Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) is killed in the aforementioned attacks, leaving his young son Oskar (newcomer and absolute revelation Thomas Horn), who has a proclivity to overanalyze and a genuine, almost neurotic, need to uncover patterns among chaos, to try to uncover (with the help of some posthumous clues from his father) the events leading up to his father's death.
The boy finds an unlikely ally in the form of the Renter (Max von Sydow, who earned an Oscar nod for his work in this movie), an elderly mute who rents a room in Oskar's grandmother's apartment. Oskar's obsession leads to the formation of a gaping chasm in his relationship with his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock in a bravado performance).
In the end, the film conveys a simple message set in a time that was anything but simple: Sometimes, things simply don't make sense.
The problem with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is that it throws too many bells and whistles at the audience for this message to be communicated clearly and without sensory interruption. Not to offend, but watching this film gave me an idea of what it might be like to be autistic; in putting the audience in precisely Oskar's situation (the boy has a natural aversion to just about everything, and his numerous neuroses are depicted in an extremely amplified fashion), the audience experiences a feeling of absolute sensory overload.
Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriters Eric Roth (adapting the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer) have certainly succeeded in capturing the eclectic nature of the source material, but it could be argued that they've done too good a job. For every scene that makes a real connection, there are two or more in which the atmosphere is so utterly chaotic that it's all a prospective viewer can do to keep his focus.
We live Oskar's torment and his often-buried mental anguish, but at the expense of being able to feel it ourselves. In the end, the movie has much the same effect as the news coverage in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: After a while we become desensitized.
Having said that, this movie is saved by virtue of the amazing performances.
In spite of a script that puts us too much in his character's mind, Horn's performance as Oskar is, as I mentioned earlier, an absolute revelation. This is Horn's first acting gig, and he's given a lot of innings to pitch for a rookie. Even though the material Horn faced would likely leave many seasoned actors stymied, he handles the task of carrying the movie with exceptional grace and surprising charm given the character's overly analytical and almost robotic nature.
Horn inflects the character of Oskar with an underlying humanity that defies his seemingly-detached nature. Despite the constant distractions, we find ourselves rooting for Oskar and hoping that he solves the mystery with which he's burdened himself.
The best scene of the movie involves a confrontation between mother and son in which Bullock lays it out on the table in no uncertain terms: "It's never going to make sense because it doesn't!" Here we see both characters at their most desperate, and the most realistic and most human moment of the movie is born. Indeed, it's this scene, in story terms, that lends the rest of the movie its emotional weight - and, again, that's all thanks to the actors.
Von Sydow turns in a characteristically great performance. I'm not sure it was worthy of an Academy Award nomination, but it's definitely great work. Without saying a word (to its credit, the movie never gives in to the temptation to give the Renter any spoken words of wisdom), von Sydow captures attention in a movie racked with distractions.
It may seem strange for me to nitpick a movie for being too complex (lord knows there's enough generalized popcorn pap floating around Hollywood these days), but this is a movie clearly intended to evoke an emotional response.
The response is there, but the audience has to work harder than it should to find it. It's a movie with a big brain (which I appreciate), but it needed to have a bigger heart.
Warner Bros. brings Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to Blu-ray with a beautiful 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that's virtually perfect. As with most of Warner's more recent releases, there's no signs of artifacting or noise. Skin tones come across beautifully, and the color palate manages to remain vital and, indeed, vibrant despite the grayish overtones that were likely chosen to evoke the somber atmosphere of New York in the aftermath of the attacks.
Likewise, the audio transfer is terrific. Even though the story provides a great deal of sensory overload, the folks at the Warner's high-def department did an excellent job of isolating each sound while simultaneously weaving them together. To use an oxymoron (there's a fantastic scene in the film about oxymorons, by the way), the Blu-ray's soundtrack is a controlled cacophony (didn't know you'd need a thesaurus for this review, did ya?)
Beyond the Feature
In spite of its lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences, Warner Bros. has afforded Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a number of insightful and entertaining bonus features that - to be perfectly honest - spend a lot of time explaining away and seemingly trying to excuse the chaotic nature of the story.
Most unusual (and refreshing) is the fact that the disc's best extra feature is what for most releases would be the yawner of the bunch. 'Making Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,' a 20-minute making-of featurette, provides a great deal of insight into the collaborative nature of bringing this project to fruition.
Interviews with Daldry, Roth, and other members of the cast and crew paints a picture of film production as it should be inasmuch as it offers details on aspects of filmmaking that many such featurettes leave out. The feature has the usual suspects (the challenges of adaptation, finding the cast, etc.) but it also focuses on some of the finer details, including the necessity of understanding characterization and development to departments as the taken-for-granted costuming and production design departments.
The other real highlight is 'Finding Oscar' (7:50), a look at the challenges and triumphs of the movie's first-time star Thomas Horn. The feature takes a look at how the producers found the young prodigy - his first public exposure was as the winner of a kids' edition of Jeopardy! - and how he manages to mold himself into a true actor. Really interesting and inspiring stuff.
Other features include:
The set also comes with a DVD and an UltraViolet copy of the movie. All bonus features are presented in 1080p high definition.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is truly a mixed bag, but totally worth checking out at least once. At the end of the day it's extremely bold and ambitious, but it only comes across properly if you can overcome the incredibly contrived and complicated nature of the story.
- Jason Jarman
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