Saturday, February 11, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

 Just when I thought it was safe to retreat to The George in meditation  with several  Indie films, along comes "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". I'm not so bothered by the title which seems a bit jarring, confusing and fragmented (and let's face it, titles are the first thing we know about a film: they create an image) and I know it's based on  the Bestseller by Jonathan Safran Foer.  But no, the thing that  irks me about "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" , is the feeling of being emotionally force-fed. I felt manipulated in an automatic sense, presented with a Hallmark card and I  resent  the sticky-sweet way everything went so neatly pat (or is it Pow!)  with its own cutesy puzzle, drawing, or friendly face to accompany a scene with no sense of ambiguity whatsoever. 

We have a precocious, isolated youngster,Oskar Schell who is functioning at a near genius-level, played by newcomer Thomas Horn.  Schell is semi-autistic. He is fiery and bold when he is with his Dad, (played with a  glib intensity by Tom Hanks) but the mother, played by Sandra Bullock is a bland non-entity. I'm not sure why.

Oskar is amphetamine-driven, with energy to burn. He spends days with his Dad on scavenger hunts focusing on  obscure words,facts and conspiracies. Then 9/11 happens and that's when the syrup begins to pour. Uh oh.

Oskar finds a key. Omg!  One last hunt! What does it open? A mystery is afoot and the film suddenly feels  like an apoplectic hybrid of "E.T", (Horn with his adorable appearance and tousled hair  recalls Henry Thomas as Elliot) "The Da Vinci Code" and "A Beautiful Mind". The film is all surface and rapid motion with no space to settle into any deep meaning and when it attempts introspection, (as in the phone ringing episode,) it is heavy handed.

 Why, I wonder, does every family story have to have a parental showdown, with such screaming and caterwauling? ("I wish You were in the building instead of Dad, I wish it was you!") . How is this necessary, being so reminiscent of other coming of age films? Why attack the audience with such a  huge dramatic club? 

 Thomas Horn is riveting at times and undeniably charismatic, but he is just so unrelenting and badgering. I'll admit to getting punchy at him and for me, that's a first. 

Oskar goes  all over New York City with a tambourine of all things, to fight fear. This is puzzling mainly because, for the most part, the city looks like Sesame Street. Everyone is so invariably kind to Oskar and he meets too many people for my standard powers of memory to count. One wishes Oskar would stop and chat awhile. We see Viola Davis, John Goodman and James Gandolfini, all thumbnail sketches, all cheerful pastiches of quirk, with no lasting character to them. 

One glaring, grateful exception is Max von Sydow who without saying a word, tells all you need to know about his existential predicament. There is a wonderful and poetic gravity to his face that this film desperately needs. Sydow is nominated for an Academy Award in this role and it is well deserved.

There is one other thing I liked about this melodrama and that is its visually sharp and crisp quality. In its scenes of ghostly figures falling from the Twin Towers, the film owes a debt to the photographic work of Robert Longo and the remote brightly-colored abstractions of John Baldessari. The rhythmic fade-ins with their attention to positive and negative space, are restive and wonderful, providing a welcome anodyne to the sappy plot.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" would do better, on film, if it were a little less loud and a little less close. There are too many Hollywood "Aha" moments for its own good. The driving elements: a genius kid,  9/11, semi- disability, and the loss of a parent, are all dynamic issues and deserve a more provocative treatment as they are so loaded on their own with a human vocabulary. To see these elements doled out in such a pre-digested fashion is maudlin, preposterous and grating on the senses. 

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