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Movie Guy

January 20, 2012

‘Extremely’ likely to make you cry

— The new movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” tells the story of a young boy who embarks on an impossible quest as a way of dealing with the death of his father in the September 11th attacks. That alone should be enough to get every parent in the audience to tear up, but just in case you’re still unmoved, did I mention that the boy probably suffers from Asperger's syndrome? How about the fact that Thomas Horn, who plays the boy, delivers an incredible debut performance as a child desperately trying to find meaning in the sudden loss of his father?

Yeah. Odds are that this film will make you cry.

The real question becomes whether the film exploits the memory of September 11th for a cheap, emotional effect. I think that on the whole, “Extremely Loud” is rather respectful of the events, although it is frequently manipulative in wringing every ounce of emotion out of the boy’s story. It can be mawkish at times, but thanks to several great performances, most audiences should enjoy being swept up by the emotions of this high profile, Oscar-bait movie.

Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, this is the story of Oskar (Horn) whose father (Tom Hanks) was at the World Trade Center on “the worst day.” That relationship between father and son was the main thing that kept Oskar’s emotional problems in check. The sudden loss of his most stabilizing influence and the unavailability his emotionally devastated mother (Sandra Bullock) leaves a huge hole in Oskar’s life that is simply overwhelming.

One year after the attacks, Oskar finds a key in his dad’s closet with the name “Black” written on the envelope. Given that his father frequently used puzzles and quests to help calm the boy’s mind, Oskar assumes that uncovering the meaning of the key will reveal some truth about his father from beyond the grave. There is an old man who lives across the street (Max von Sydow) who hasn’t spoken a word in decades, but nevertheless agrees to accompany Oskar on his impossible task, and so the two set out to contact every person in New York with the last name of Black.

The realists in the audience will probably scoff at this as well as the concept of New Yorkers having the time to stop and nurture this socially awkward boy. Still, the film has a charming sense of magical realism that makes the events plausible while playing out on the screen, and some of the more-distressing coincidences are explained as the film moves towards it surprisingly uplifting conclusion.

When everything is said and done, it’s the acting that makes “Extremely Loud” so special. As mentioned, Horn gives an impressive debut, and von Sydow is superb in a complex role where he’s not allowed to talk at all. Hanks is as charming as ever, while Jeffrey Wright and Sandra Bullock have two powerfully nuanced scenes that left me reaching for my handkerchief.

Yeah. I cried.

The film isn’t always this powerful (thank heavens) and there are times when it’s hard to believe what’s going on in the story, but when the emotional moments crest, you’ll be devastated. You’ll probably also be relieved by the hopeful note sounded in the film’s outcome and glad that you saw one of the most-emotionally involving films of the year.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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