The story of an 11-year-old boy dealing with the death of his father in the World Trade Centre tragedy, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is directed by Stephen Daldry and is an intense, beautifully shot, and claustrophobic drama. Littered with characters who seem intent on being irritating, it also sways between being emotionally manipulative and genuinely moving.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, who with screenwriter Eric Roth (Munich, Ali, The Insider) adapted the story for the big screen, ELAIC is heavily narrated by a young boy called Oskar Schell. Oskar finds a key in an envelope hidden in his father's wardrobe a year after his death, and believes it will lead him to a message his father (Hanks) has left him. Obsessive about finding the lock the key opens, Oskar's only clue is the name "Black" written on the envelope, so he sets about tracking down every person with the surname Black in New York.
Oskar is an unusual kid. He's intelligent, anxious, obsessive and cold (he tells us he was once tested for Asperger's but the results were not definitive), and 9/11 has amplified his fear of the world. His mission is understandably a search for closure, but apart from receiving the sympathy of fellow New Yorkers nothing much happens. This is wearisome for us and tiring for Oskar. He becomes frustrated at the futility of his mission and Daldry pushes this character from being an erudite and quirky subject to one who's rude, obnoxious and irritating.
It may be because it appears Oskar's been deserted by everyone in his life, apart from an elderly mute known as the Renter (Max von Sydow) who accompanies him on some of the visits. An underwhelming story twist attempts to soften this outtake, but not before you've spent most of the film wanting an adult to step in and help Oskar - or get him some therapy.
ELAIC is a story about the tragic consequences of 9/11 rather than the event itself, but it does feature flashbacks as seen through the eyes of Oskar and his mother (Bullock). These are drawn out throughout the film, and watching Oskar listen to his father's voice messages while watching the horrific event unfold on the television feels like a mawkish and emotionally manipulative device by Daldry. As too, are shots of Hanks falling from the sky.
At other times Daldry manages to provoke genuine emotion thanks to Bullock's tender performance of a woman crumbling under grief and Von Sydow's expressive mute. While Oskar isn't a sympathetic character, his story does make you think about those who lost family members, and the difficulties they face trying to make sense of something as unimaginable as 9/11.
Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Director: Stephen Daldry
Running time: 129 mins
Rating: PG (coarse language)
Verdict: Irritating, narcissistic characters overwhelm the moving story at the heart of this film