You can’t make a whimsical children’s film out of 9/11, but of course someone tried. The result is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a very bad movie that grows even worse with the passing of each scene.
Here’s the story: a boy living in New York (played by Thomas Horn in his film debut) is grieving over the death of his father (Tom Hanks), a jeweler who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and constantly encouraged his shy, eccentric son to branch out and meet total strangers. It turns out Dad left a mysterious key in his closet, which inspires his son to go on a citywide quest to find the lock it belongs to. This journey into the city leads him to a parade of wacky characters and also causes him to relive the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001.
The film is overstuffed with cutesy details, like how the boy always walks with a tambourine, meets a man (played by Max Von Sydow) who never speaks but has “Yes” and “No” written on his hands and always writes down his running comments. By the film’s end, we also get a Tae Kwan Do/oxymoron duel, a home-made 9/11 pop-up book and other touches that are what-were-they-thinking? goofy. Added queasily to the mix are horrifying scenes like a recording of a 9/11 caller before he dies and the sight of Hanks falling to his death from the tower.
The whole thing left a real bad taste in my mouth. There are ways to deal with this topic that are smart and honest but the Harriet the Spy meets United 93 approach is just dreadful, as well as distasteful and stupid. Horn overplays every scene, seeming like he just finished his first child acting class in an irritating, trying-too-hard performance. Hanks overdoes the winking to the audience in another awe-shucks turn that undercuts what a thoughtful, quietly impressive actor he can be.
Sandra Bullock plays his wife and does what she can as the film’s most implausible character–her big reveal at the end is supposed to be touching but can be viewed as either child abuse or pure idiocy on her part. Von Sydow keeps his dignity intact by having no dialogue and, while his work has been gaining acclaim, receiving an Oscar for his role in this movie would be an insult to the career of this legendary actor. It would be like honoring him for his performance in Strange Brew.
One of the year’s most unpleasant films, it exploits the horrors of 9/11 in cheap, low brow ways and can’t balance the horrible realities of the terrorist attacks with fanciful story and character touches. Modern fable or not, I couldn’t believe any of it but was awestruck by how remarkably wrongheaded it is.
At least the awful “Remember Me” only utilized 9/11 to squeeze tears out of a single scene. Tobey Keith music videos were never this shameless.
If seeing this helps someone heal over the events of 9/11, then great. Movies can and should provide catharsis and comfort. Here, I was struck by what a phony experience this offers and I didn’t allow this wretched tear jerker to jerk a single tear out of me.
I know this was based on a book: granted, the “offbeat” moments may work on the written page but fail when made literal. Hanks was in the controversial Radio Flyer, a children’s fantasy about child abuse, a film that only half worked, unlike this one, where nothing works.
Rated PG13/129 Min