'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' Movie Review (2011)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close movie review
Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Photo: Warner Bros.

With an absolute sensitivity to the people and events surrounding 2001's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an emotionally staggering adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name. Director Stephen Daldry has taken Eric Roth's (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) screenplay and crafted a film that will have you welling up early and often as it not only manages to be respectful of the events and the millions of lives that were affected, but it's done in such a way that the tears are earned rather than merely the result of the tragic event at the film's core.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Grade: A+

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is a Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. release, directed by Stephen Daldry and is rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.

The cast includes Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Max von Sydow, Thomas Horn and Adrian Martinez.

Set one year after the September 11th attacks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows the story of young Oskar Schell (played to perfection by Thomas Horn) after he lost his father (Tom Hanks) in one of the Towers. Oskar held a close relationship with his father, whom he says "never talked to him like a child" and would often send him on expeditions, the last of which involved the search for clues that would reveal the existence of a "sixth borough". However, this expedition was cut short on what Oskar calls "The Worst Day" and only now, a year later, has he decided to even dare enter his father's closet, untouched by his mother (Sandra Bullock). This is where Oskar begins his next expedition.

While searching through his father's things, Oskar causes a vase to fall to the floor and shatter, revealing a small envelope with the word "Black" written on it and a single key inside. Putting his youthful imagination to work he sees this as another one of his father's journeys, and with it he now has a new link to his father and a mystery he plans to solve. After all, if there's a key it must have a lock that it opens.

Oskar plots out his plan, which will take him across all five of New York's boroughs in search of said lock. Over the course of this journey, family secrets will be revealed, some semblance of catharsis will be found and, as I'm sure you expected based on the subject matter alone, an assault on your emotions will be waged.

Granted, if you view using the September 11th attacks in any way as an emotional cheat, or perhaps disrespectful, you are most likely going to be bothered by the film as a whole. In fact, I don't know why you'd even go see it. However, if you watch it with the understanding there is no malice intended you'll realize it's just as much a journey for Oskar Schell as it is a journey for all of us. It approaches the events of 9/11 and asks the question we've all asked at one point -- "Why?" It's the simplest of questions and if anyone has been around a young child for any small measure of time I'm sure you've been faced with this one word in a constant barrage. Child or not, if any event in the last ten years deserves such a barrage it's 9/11. Then again, Oskar isn't your average child.

Oskar's a thinker. He's a reader. He's an amateur pacifist and inventor. He tells us he was tested for Asperger's but the "tests weren't definitive." He's a child of a different sort and I instantly gravitated toward him. Like all of us would, he wonders why people he didn't know would fly a plane into a building and kill his father. It doesn't make sense. There is no logical answer, but the struggle for understanding continues where no understanding can be found.

Thomas Horn is given a large task in carrying such a weighty story on his shoulders but he does so without a hitch and Stephen Daldry makes him look good every step of the way by not only editing a feature that balances time, emotions and performance with seeming ease, but by also playing to the film's title in terms of sound and visual intimacy be it a wide shot of the Brooklyn Bridge, soaring overhead views or the slow-motion drip of a leaky faucet. Coupled with an excellent score from Alexandre Desplat and moments of stark imagery caught by the masterful Chris Menges, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tests your emotional stamina as you can only hope to hold on for so long before you break.

I won't go so far as to say Extremely Loud isn't manipulative, because it is, just as is any film that centers on any such similar tragedy. The key for Daldry and crew was making sure it wasn't done in such a way that the audience felt as if their emotions are being toyed with. The audience must be engaged to the point that when the characters react, the audience reacts, and there's no question this film has achieved that level of intimate connection.

Horn, as I've said, was excellent, but Daldry didn't stop there, surrounding the first-time film actor (and "Kids Week" Jeopardy! champion) with a talented ensemble.

Max von Sydow is outstanding as the mysterious house guest staying with Oskar's grandmother. Mute as the result of a past trauma, Sydow's performance is 100% physical from his eyes to the way he carries his aging body. One moment in particular, where Oskar is revealing his plan to the man he knows as "The Renter," is probably the first moment in the film where audiences will truly find themselves grabbing for a tissue as Oskar screams with frustration and Von Sydow serves as a kindly sounding board, his eyes weakening as he listens to the struggles of a young child who shouldn't be burdened with such trials. It's powerful stuff.

Sandra Bullock is also impressive as Oskar's mother in a performance that hues closer to her work in Crash rather than her Oscar-winning work in The Blind Side and Viola Davis proves she never has a misstep as the first of many New Yorkers Oskar encounters on his expedition. Even Tom Hanks, in a rather limited role, punched me in the gut just by saying, "Let's go do something."

The largest issue I had with this film was figuring out how to describe the effect it had on me emotionally. It's a crushing film that will leave many moviegoers in a heap, but I don't look at it as an overly sad movie even though the level of sadness on display is undeniable.

In trying to find words to describe this emotional onslaught I think it's best to say it's earnest, sincere, impassioned and heartfelt. Yet, emotional descriptors aside, I think it's best to simply say it's wonderful and as hard as it may be to swallow the lump it will create in your throat, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a film you'll walk away from happy you saw it. This is highly effective filmmaking from the top down. It's one of the year's best and I loved it.


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  • Travis

    Oh. Good thing I just cut it from my Oscar predictions...

    • Grissom

      How is cutting it good? Do you mean it made the cut?

      • Travis

        No. I'm being sarcastic. Due to the fact it got no buzz, I decided it probably wasn't going to get nominated. However, now that the wonderful reviews are piling in, it seems I may have a challenge on my hands.

  • adu

    Brad dont you find it strange that this movie wont be availabe to the general audience till mid-Jan 2012 and is still considered in the 2011 awards race? shouldnt it be considered a 2012 movie?

    Anyways, nice to see a positive review; I wonder if it have a chance at the Oscars since the Globes snubbed it big time.

    • http://moviekid-zach.blogspot.com Phillys Youngest Cinephile (and critic)

      It's being released in NY and LA on Christmas, before it opens everywhere else in January

    • Ryan H

      This release pattern isn't that unusual. And it can work pretty well both for box office and Oscar wins.

      Million Dollar Baby (Best Picture Winner)
      Limited Release: December 15th, 2004
      Wide Release: January 28th, 2005
      Boxoffice: $100m

      Chicago (Best Picture Winner)
      Limited Release: December 27th
      Wide Release: February 7th
      Boxoffice: $170m

  • Evengan

    Extremely pretentious and incredibly forced.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Ah ha, wordplay. You make a lot of good points, thanks for elaborating.

    • goavs

      Evengan, pretty funny although I haven't seen the film yet.

  • Ryan

    Brad, after seeing it do you still see it having a shot winning best picture?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Oscar talk around this one will be interesting because some people are having the exact opposite reaction to the film I had.

      • Colin

        I was about to say that Anne Thompson and many many others had the exact opposite reaction to this film that Brad has had. It's a little bizarre. This one, in my opinion, will probably fade into memory pretty fast. In fact, I would expect an all out disaster for this movie.

  • Anonymous

    Brad, are there any flashbacks where we actually see the history of the Max von Sydow character in WWII like in the book?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Nope, but try not to give too much away in the comments.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for answering - and yes, I'll try to be more careful around possible spoilers!

  • Daniel

    Can't wait to see it and hope the Academy doesn't snub it.

  • darnoc62

    i guess to the general public at large

    they will first think either is this film a tribute to those who died or a film cashing in on one the greatest tragedies in US history

    once that decision is made will they then decide if they gonna go see it or not so prob essential to have america's fave actor tom hanks in it to let joe public know hey its a respectful movie else tom wouldnt be in it

  • MKing

    I know this is off topic but...how bad was War Horse? In Friday's podcast, you guys, or at least Laremy, said don't see it. I'm so anxious to know.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      You'll know all on the 21st... or just scan my Twitter feed.

  • Calvin

    How was Jeffrey Wright? And John Goodman?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Sometimes I don't mention certain things because I don't want to spoil the movie or they just aren't worth mentioning. Your two questions contain a little of both.

    • Calvin

      Ah, okay...my faith in this film is renewed by your review, if nothing else.

  • Josh

    Brad you mentioned above in the comments that not everyone is feeling the same way as you. If I recall correctly (I could be wrong here) but wasnt that the same case for "Reign Over Me"? Another 9/11 film that was good and I thought you enjoyed it too but not many other people did.

  • LM

    I'm just curious, now that you've seen Bullock and Sydow performances, has their rankings in your predictions gone up, or down?

  • Driver

    Ouch. In Rotten Tomatoes there are 3 rotten reviews out of 4. Critics are not liking this movie so far. Rope of Silicon loved it way before its release, by ranking it #1 on their Best Picture predictions (thing that will never happen), so of course they had to give it an A+. Anyway, this movie looks interesting enough for me to go see it.

    • buster bluth

      pretty sure that's not how it works around here. many prediction websites were calling this a potential best picture film, not just this one. a website that deals in reviews, wouldn't be long for this world if that is how they decided which films they liked...or loved.

      probably a more realistic timeline of events is that this movie was anticipated to be great, and brad loved it.

      there is nothing as thrilling as a nice conspiracy to some people.

      • Mason Williamson

        What about the fact that Brad still has War Horse among the top 5 Oscar contenders and has already stated that he did not enjoy the film? Your theory has no logic behind it at all.

  • Mikey

    You don't still think this has a chance of winning Best Picture do you? The early reviews are not looking good at all. I don't think it has a chance of even been nominated to be honest.

  • DJ Llama

    Initially, I did not intend to watch the movie. I saw it as blatant Oscar bait. But after reading the review, I might give it a second shot. I'll put aside my opinions so I can make an honest judgment.

    But another question is, will this kid be a new rising child star like how Hailee Steinfeld was after starring in True Grit?

  • Michaeltn


    What an excellent review. I watched an early screening of this film, and your review took words right out of my mouth.
    I thought about this film days later, and do feel better having seen it. I am a little surprised some early reviews are mixed, but I think the tight reins placed on the film probably upset some reviewers, who may not be able to now give it a fair shake.

  • Jamaica

    I'm not sure about this one. Brad was hyping the film to death, pre-release, even awarding it it's #1 spot on the best picture prediction. The film didn't get any globe noms, and it's currently sitting at 50% in rottentomatoes (4 positives and 4 negatives).

  • Alex Hartsell

    Hey Brad

    Do you think this film has a chance of getting nominated at the 84th Academy Awards even though it is getting a few nominations at some film festivals? Because I really wanted this film to be nominated for some Oscars due to the Academy loves the director of the film, it has some good stuff in it (like some of the cast and crew) and I read the novel for studying which book will be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for this Oscar race.

  • Jamaica

    After 32 reviews in Rottentomatoes, the film has a 58% critics score. Not looking good at all.

  • MarkB

    This was an awful, awful movie. The author said he "gravitated" towards the kid. This kid has got to be one of the most irritating, obnoxious kids you'll ever see on film. I question the type of person who would "gravitate" towards a kid like that.

  • sean

    So you'e the one person who likes this movie! Kidding. Well sort of. I've heard bad things about it and now Movieline and other blogs are having a ball making fun of it and it's horrible reviews. I love The Hours and liked the Reader too so I'm sure Daldry does a fine job. But the story doesn't interest me. It'll be fascinating to see if people respond to it now that it's in wide release.

  • Feedback

    I just saw this yesterday. This was one of the most boring movies I've ever seen. There's no dancing around it. No one in my theater "welled up", they just sighed at the total boredom they were all experiencing.

    I hate being so blunt because I don't want to sound like I'm attacking you for enjoying the movie. You enjoyed it, that's okay, but you seem to be the only one.

    The little kid was ridiculously annoying. So annoying that I can't grasp how no one ended up punching him in the face. Max Von Sydow was fine in his role, but not an Oscar-worthy performance compared to everyone else nominated.

    In fact, NOTHING about this film is Oscar-worthy. I wouldn't necessarily consider this a Razzie-worthy film, but the fact I enjoyed The Vow more than this mess frightens me. And mind you, I did not like The Vow.

    When The Reader was nominated, everyone said it was the worst film to be nominated for Best Picture. Now Stephen Daldry beats his own record with this terrible film. There's no other way to say it, it was REALLY BAD. I could argue many points, but I don't want to spoil anything.

    I am really surprised you liked this. I really am. I think you should watch it again. Maybe it will put things into perspective.

  • jakekub

    This movie is CRAP, just like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is just plain awful. Incredibly Annoying and Extremely Dull. Hollywood keeps pumping out sewage.