Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Stephen Daldry, 129 mins (12)
Lock this one up, and throw away the key
Sunday 19 February 2012
In 2002, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu contributed to a set of short films about the 9/11 attacks.
His offering was an art video that showed repeated newscast images of people jumping from the World Trade Center. At the time, more than one critic complained that it was in bad taste, if not obscene. Now, 10 years on, in a prestige Hollywood production, we not only see elegantly staged re-creations of those falls, but in one shot, Tom Hanks plummeting towards us at full speed.
Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, which ends with several pages of photos; flick them and you get a body floating upwards, towards the top floors of the twin towers. I haven't read the book, but I've glanced at its plethora of pictures, typographical tweaks and multi-coloured typefaces – as if Tristram Shandy had been put together by the design department of McSweeney's. Daldry's film is in that spirit, full of gorgeously shot (by Chris Menges) visual quirks and editing conceits, all to create something that will either melt your heart or make you recoil in horror – an innocent child's-eye view of 9/11.
Hero Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is an 11-year-old New Yorker with an original take on things – which is to say, he may have Asperger's, or another condition that manifests itself as a poetic, frenetically fertile and hyper-systematised world view, along with assorted eccentricities such as the need to carry a tambourine everywhere. And then one day, his loving dad Thomas (Tom Hanks) fails to come home.
Later, the stricken Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the word "Black" written on it – and decides that he needs to visit everyone in New York named Black, in the hope of finding the owner and thereby, obscurely, Closure. Oskar meets many people, most of them happy to share stories, wisdom and even hugs, or show him curiosities such as a photograph of an elephant crying. Thomas is accompanied on his quest by a mysterious old mute, who communicates through little handwritten notices. He's played likeably by Max von Sydow, smiling bemusedly. Von Sydow once played chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Now he's holding up flash cards to a child, and he's got an Oscar nomination for it; funny old world, the movies.
There's little so awkward in cinema as the attempt to make a child-like film. Stephen Daldry, who isn't naturally a child-like director, seems to have absorbed the spirit of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine, etc), who is – and the result is bogus. With its manic montages, wry non sequiturs and "magical" moments, this feels like 9/11, Amélie-style.
You feel brutish complaining about child actors not being likeable, but I found Thomas Horn offputtingly knowing in his gauche eccentricity. And Hanks is as jovially tender a screen Everydad as you could ever wish to punch. But you won't really begin gagging until the finale, when Mom (Sandra Bullock) shows that there's no love like a mother's love, no matter how contrived a plot must be to prove it. This is a horrible folly of a film – not offensive particularly, just extravagantly inadequate to its subject.
Jonathan Romney watches Woody Harrelson's cop thriller Rampart
Of all the films in all the world...Casablanca celebrates its 70th anniversary with a re-release. And, roll over Brangelina! Kermit and Miss Piggy show who are the genuine Hollywood gods in The Muppets, the first Muppets theatrical release in 12 years and a witty, knowing reboot for the First Family of Felt.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food