Making movies about the September 11 tragedies is unquestionably tricky. You don’t want to gloss over the facts and you definitely don’t want to exploit the pain but you also have to ensure that your movie is not so bleak and depressing that no one ends up seeing it. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, the latest film by Oscar nominee, Stephen Daldry (THE READER), does a pretty decent job of oscillating between the morose and the uplifting, without ever succumbing too much to either side, but it also never truly finds its voice as a result.
The story itself, adapted from the well regarded novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a poignant one. Young, precocious, Thomas Schell (played by Teen Jeopardy winner, Thomas Horn, in his first film), loses his father (Tom Hanks) in the September 11 attacks. Naturally, this causes his already rampant anxiety to expand greatly. He no longer takes trains, fears tall buildings and carries a tambourine around with him at all times to help ease his mounting tension. All of this makes his quest to find the lock for a key he found amongst his father’s belongings particularly difficult. Before his father passed away, he would orchestrate mysterious puzzles for his son to solve and Thomas sees this key as a way to keep his father alive just a little bit longer. Not surprisingly, he pushes away his mother (a touching Sandra Bullock) in the process and subsequently befriends a stranger (Max von Sydow, in an incredibly telling turn considering the character is mute) in an effort to replace his absent father figure. Across the board, the acting is quite understated and very respectful to the horror that inspired this story. The way the events unfold though is at times too whimsical to be fully believed.
What I found most moving about EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE was how perfectly it captured that newfound sense of danger, apprehension and confusion that didn’t exist in Western society before the World Trade Center towers collapsed. At nine years old, Thomas cannot make sense of what happened on that day. Heck, most adults couldn’t make sense of it. And so, without being able to understand how his father was taken from him when planes flew into buildings, he now fears most everything instead. The beauty in the final journey Thomas finds himself on, is that it not only brings him closer to his father, but it also brings him closer to healing without his even realizing it. Maybe Daldry will have the same effect on you.