Thursday, 23 February 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Academy Award Nominations: 2
  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow)

Oskar Schell is an intelligent but frightened young boy, so his father Thomas regularly sends him on scavenger hunts to try and cure him of his fears of interacting with the outside world. However, Thomas is killed on 9/11, leaving Oskar and his mother Linda devastated, as Oskar retreats into his own world again. As Oskar goes through his father's possessions, trying to keep his memory and connection with him alive, he accidentally shatters a blue vase, which reveals a small brown envelope with 'Black' written on it and containing a key. Oskar determines that this is his father's final scavenger hunt for him, and becomes determined to find out what it unlocks in order to try and keep his father's memory alive...

If there's one film this year that has "Oscar bait" written all over it, it's surely this one. A young boy as the central character. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, two of the biggest actors in the world, playing his parents. A 9/11 tragedy forms the context of the story. No laughs, all tears. It may as well have been called For Your Consideration with the way this seems to be desperately craving Academy attention, and God bless the Academy, they went for it hook, line, and sinker. All the elements are there for a quintessential award winner, it's just a matter of putting them together and creating a likeable story with likeable characters that will appeal to a wide range of voters and audience members alike. Unfortunately, this is where the construct falls down. A better name for this film would have been Extremely Long and Incredibly Crass, because it is just that...

The main problem with this film is the central character. The young boy Oskar who losers his father in the 9/11 attacks and so goes on a quest to see what his father's key will unlock in the hopes it will lead him to something greater and keep his father's memory alive. Nice idea, yes, but the problem with that... Is that the kid is an asshole. I mean, a real little prick. There's no way you can feel any empathy for him when he is so consistently annoying throughout this film. There script makes a very brief mention that he had been tested for Asperger's syndrome but that the tests had been inconclusive. This seems like a very lazy way to explain why Oskar becomes as obsessed and neurotic as he is, as well as an easy way to explain why he's being such a dick to his grieving mother, his doting grandmother and everyone around him. I understand that grief takes many forms, but presenting it in this form makes Oskar thoroughly unlikeable and leaves the audience at a distance from the film, which is a major problem when the film tries to evoke emotion left, right and centre.

The only people who get close to evoking said emotion are the two main supports: Sandra Bullock as Oskar's mother, and Max von Sydow as the man who is renting a room with Oskar's grandmother. Bullock plays a grieving mother ignored and mistreated by her angry (?) son well, but is ultimately reduced to a cameo appearance. Max von Sydow, however, is probably the best, and probably only good, thing about this film. I put this down to one reason: The character is mute, and only speaks through a pad and paper and Yes/No tattoos on the palms of his hands. Why is this so good? Well it means he never has to open his mouth and say any of the terrible dialogue the other characters are given, and it means his brief statements and messages and expressions and acting have more impact than any other. Also, if anyone watched the BAFTAs, you'll know von Sydow is having trouble delivering consistent speech, so a silent role suits him down and he does really well here. Tom Hanks's best part of this film is probably the all-too-realistic voicemails he leaves for his family as he is stuck in the North Tower, otherwise when you do see him on screen with Oskar, he seems to be less getting Oskar over his phobias and more breeding Oskar to be an asshole. Viola Davis also makes a welcome cameo appearance as one of the people Oskar meets on his quest to what his key unlocks.

There's nothing wrong with the way the film has been shot, it looks fine and polished as you'd expect. The problem is with the plot and the dialogue and the characters. This entire film is overly romanticised, overly emotional, and extremely heavy when there's no need for it. Maybe as a light-hearted comedy with a serious core this might have worked, but as a serious drama, it fails. There's just no need for this film to be playing for such a strong emotional reaction all the time, it leaves you feeling underwhelmed with the entire concept when it doesn't hit home, so much so that when the film actually stands a chance of evoking the kind of reaction it's aiming for, you're so bored and dulled by it, that all you can do is sit and let the overly-emotional scenes wash over you. If you're anything like me, you'll sit through this to the end purely to reach the conclusion and answer the questions the film raises, not for any kind of morbid curiosity or because the film's enjoyable. Because to be honest it's really not.

Overall, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Extremely Long and Incredibly Dull. This film has aspirations of being something so much greater but it fails to live up to its own expectations. Max von Sydow is probably the only good thing about this and makes the second act worth watching, other that that though I struggle to find reasons to recommend it really. It's just overly-hyped, overly-emotional slush which misses its target so often, it's incredible that this has made it onto the shortlist as one of the best films of the year. Every year, the Academy makes at least one big mistake. This might well be the mistake for 2011. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Extremely Loathsome and Incredibly Painful.

Rating: *1/2

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was released on 17th February 2012 and is still being shown in cinemas.