Normally if you went to a movie headlined by megastars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and these two only appeared on screen about twelve minutes combined, you would probably not be a happy moviegoer. Well, in the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hanks and Bullock have only small, but important roles. This whole film is carried by young Thomas Horn and he was absolutely brilliant.
Horn portrays Oskar Schell, a troubled youth with a myriad of problems. He is a strange child who is scared of nearly everything. He has been tested for Asperger’s syndrome but the results were inconclusive. Luckily, Oskar has one person who understands him completely – his father. Thomas Schell (Hanks) challenges his son constantly to take on his fears and to enjoy the journey of discovery and knowledge in his young life. Thomas lays puzzles for his son to solve. He puts together treasures hunts where the prize is not gold, but knowledge. Thomas is always pushing Oskar to grow as a person and not give in to his phobias. Unfortunately, a tragedy shatters Oskar’s life in the events of the “Worst Day” (9/11).
What follows is Oskar’s journey toward healing and it is a journey obstructed by fear, guilt, and self doubt. Oskar finds a key, a normal every day, with no lock. He sees it as one last treasure hunt set before him by his father and the film follows trials and tribulations as he tries to follow the clues left for him.
Oskar is aided along the way by a nameless man who rents space from Oskar’s grandmother. Max von Sydow is terrific as the new male in Oskar’s life who mentors the youngster and learns a few lessons of his own. Veteran von Sydow never speaks a word in the whole film but he conveys a man on a journey himself, watching Oskar with an amused, bemused expression set on his wrinkled face. This isn’t von Sydow biggest role ever but I doubt he has ever been better in his long, distinguished career.
Ultimately though, the film is dominated by Thomas Horn’s incredible performance. He is in nearly every scene and in many scenes, he is by himself. The most amazing aspect of his performance is that he never slips, not for instant, from his character, a remarkable accomplishment for such a young actor in his first role. Everything is perfect, from his facial expressions to his body language. Horn makes you believe in his anguish and fear. You hurt for what he is going through. You ache for the distance that grows between him and his mother. You feel his failures and your heart races at his triumphs, no matter how small. Every now and then a child actor steps forward and delivers a tour-de-force performance and Horn does just this in this picture. I can’t wait to see him in whatever movie he appears in next. I hope he has long career in the business.
The cast is filled out with small but powerful for Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright. John Goodman appears in a few brief scenes as Oskar’s doorman. Davis’s and Wright’s performances deliver the excellence we have come to expect form each of them. Sandra Bullock as Oskar’s mom is a small role but incredible one. I won’t get into her role much but I will say do not give up on her character too soon.
This is a powerful picture that deals in inner pain, in fear, and in triumph. We are reminded of how important it is to be a supportive parent, through good times and bad. We see the power of courage, spirit, and friendship and how important even small kindnesses, even to total strangers, can be and how much influence one can have in lives other than our own. I find it very hard to believe there will be a better acting performance in 2012 than Thomas Horn’s and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close moves to the top of the list for movies in 2012. I know the year has just begun but there will not be many films that can top it.
Adults will enjoy this film but take plenty of tissue – you will need it. Younger children may be bored and there are some disturbing images and raw emotions throughout. It may be a lot for even a pre-teen to process. It is worth the watch for just about everyone else and I highly recommend it.
Get my views on sports at jawspsortsandstuff.blogspot.com and get twitter updates @jawsrecliner