The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (UK cert. 12A)

Christopher Plummer once described working with Julie Andrews like 'being beaten to death with a Valentine's Card'. There were scenes when watching Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that I felt like I was being waterboarded with golden syrup. At times, the film is so sickly-sweet, so relentlessly sentimental that you can almost feel yourself drowning in schmaltz. It's also shamelessly emotionally manipulative, which is fair enough as it's dealing with an emotional subject. But it lacks any kind of subtlety.

The plot is fairly straightforward: a year after his father (Tom Hanks) dies in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, nine year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) finds a key in his father's possessions in an envelope with the name 'Black' on it. He decides it is a quest left behind for him by his father and therefore decides to seek out all people with the surname Black who live in New York. Along the way, the hyperintelligent, precocious and very earnest Oskar starts to learn the lesson that sometimes in life there isn't an order to or reason for something happening.

When a film or a novel is told through the eyes of a child, I feel that the success (or otherwise) of the endeavour is directly related to how sympathetic you feel toward the child. Therein lies one of my main problems with the film. There are several moments in which Oskar's behaviour- most notably towards his long-suffering mother (Sandra Bullock)- made me feel incredibly unsympathetic towards him. There is an idea that Oskar may have Asperger's Syndrome- a test proved 'inconclusive'- but even with this condition to ameliorate or excuse or justify some of his behaviour, I still felt that his petulant outbursts undermined what I felt for him, particularly when he tells his mother he wishes she had died in the World Trade Center instead of his father. However, when his father is presented as such a saint (as the film does, and it's in these scenes which the treacly sentiment chiefly presides), his mother is always going to look second-best.

With an occasionally unsympathetic main character, it falls to the supporting characters to stop the film from becoming unwatchable. Luckily, there is a strong supporting cast here (with the exception of Tom Hanks who I found fairly bland). Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright add some real class as Abby and William Black, who are linked to the mystery of the key. There's also nice support by Zoe Caldwell as Oskar's Teutonic grandmother and Sandra Bullock turns in a nice low-key performance as Oskar's mother. Which leads me on to Max von Sydow, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his role as 'The Renter', a mute man who rooms with Oskar's grandmother and who becomes involved in Oskar's quest around New York. Von Sydow doesn't utter a word throughout but he puts in a dignified performance and, whilst the revelation of The Renter's true identity isn't exactly a surprise, he fulfils an important role in helping Oskar come to terms with the noise and the busyness of the city.

I'm going to be honest now, if this film had not been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, I would not have gone to see it. My main reason for going was to find out what made the Academy voters decide to acknowledge this movie with the top accolade.  Having now seen the film, the decision to put this into the race for Best Picture is a fairly mystifying one and makes the exclusion of better-executed and better-performed films (such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) seem an egregious oversight.

I want to make it clear that I didn't hate this film; I was just very aware of being emotionally manipulated throughout which really isn't my idea of a fun night at the movies.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


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