Where This Meets That
Thomas Horn is brilliant as 9-year old, borderline-Asperger Oskar Schell, whose father, portrayed by Tom Hanks, was killed in the World Trade Center attack. Oskar shared a remarkably close relationship with his father Thomas, who was keen to develop Oskar’s hyper-focused mind, its strengths and shortcomings.
One of Oskar’s favorite activities to share with his father had been to investigate vague claims his father would make, such as a mythical lost “Sixth Burrough” of New York City. Thomas would send Oskar on such quests and would make sure that the investigations required Oskar to communicate with wide circles of people to force him to confront his social awkwardness.
Then came 9/11, and Oskar’s grip on the world slipped with his father’s death. His relationship with his mother (played by Sandra Bullock) was not as innate as with his father, and after 9/11, that relationship grew more distant.
Nearly a year after what Oskar refers to as “the worst day”, he finds a mysterious key on a shelf in his father’s closet. Feeling the warmth of his father’s memory cooling with time, he immediately believes that this key must be one last hidden quest his father has left him with: what does this key unlock?
The acting is top-notch. Hanks is likeable as ever, with his weightiest moments coming off screen, through a telephone. By contrast, Max von Sydow is masterful as Oskar’s mysteriously speechless neighbor and confidante. Bullock delivers a supporting role that might exceed her Oscar winning performance in The Blind Side.
But for all the star power behind it, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is Horn’s film. This was his film debut, and he knocked it out of the park. As a promising young actor, he’s already led an impressive existence in his personal life, speaking four languages, and winning “Jeopardy!” during Kids Week. He’ll be interesting to watch as his career unfolds.
The screenwriting and soundtrack are also top notch, both heavy and inspiring in a way that recalls Pay it Forward.
It’s a film that stretches roots deeper into what my wife called “the human condition,” challenging us to reflect on topics like fatherhood, family, fear, community and what drives people to do the things we do. It avoids politics to focus on aftermath. How do we manage to find the strength to carry on after life pitches its most difficult curve balls?
As Thomas tells Oskar during one flashback, “if [such answers] were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.”
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close score: 4 Falcone Rings!