Thursday, 16 February 2012

'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' Berlinale (Out of Competition) review:

Who knew 9/11 could throw up so much potential for whimsy? Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling novel, 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' is the story of how the tragic events of that day cure a boy's autism. That's really pretty much what happens, as nine year-old protagonist Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) goes on a life-affirming quest to find out why terrorists blew up his super-swell father (Tom Hanks).

Of course this being an Eric Roth ('Forest Gump', 'Benjamin Button') screenplay, Oskar's disarming sincerity and can-do attitude ensure that he heals the gaping emotional wounds in everyone he meets - and he meets everyone with the surname "Black" in the New York City phone book, incidentally fixing marriages and mending souls as he goes. Black is the only word on an envelope in which Oskar finds a mysterious key belonging to his late father - a key he hopes will unlock some powerful nuggets of truth, but which'll most likely be for a back door or bleeding a radiator, or something.

He is buoyed in his quest early on by a friendly old man at a key cutting shop who - in a line recalling Gump's famed box o' chocolates - says that he likes keys because they all unlock something. Yes, I'm afraid that is the acidic taste of sick in your mouth. He is also helped by his walkie talkie wielding Germanic grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) and her mute house guest, with "yes" and "no" tattoos on the palms of his hands - I told you this was whimsical. He's also apparently aided in a clandestine fashion by his mostly absent mother (Sandra Bullock), the reveal for which is so far-fetched it makes the rest of the film seem grounded. Bear in mind that "the rest of the film" in this case includes the making of a 9/11 pop-up book.

I haven't even mentioned Tom Hanks' wacky antics in the frequent backflash scenes, because I don't want to relive them. As "the renter", Max von Sydow (who has received an Oscar nomination) is the film's clear (for "clear" read "only") highlight. It's not without emotionally distressing moments, but those stem more from being reminded of the horror of 9/11 than anything the movie is doing. In fact it's own attempts to wring tears from the tragedy feel crass and exploitative. The only noteworthy thing about 'Extremely Loud' is that Stephen Daldry has made perhaps the worst film in recent memory to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' is released in the UK tomorrow, rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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