Blu Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Late in 2011, I wrote down a series of movie-related New Year’s resolutions for myself in 2012. One of those resolutions was to challenge myself by seeing films I might ordinarily pass up. Ironically enough, right around the time I was making that resolution, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close hit theatres. It looked like a lot of cloying dreck, to be blunt, and I had planned to avoid it. This, despite the fact that it was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Fast forward nearly six months. Warner Brothers sent me my own Blu-ray copy of Extremely Loud for free. It was as if they said “Oh, you’re challenging yourself, John? Here’s a free copy of Extremely Loud. Your move.” And so I shed my preconceived notions and watched the movie.

Extremely Loud is about a boy named Oskar Schell whose father died on 9/11. Through flashbacks, we see how close he was to his father. We also see that Oskar is full of phobias, and that his father patiently attempts to help him overcome them. After his father dies, Oskar enters his father’s closet and accidentally discovers a mysterious envelope with a key in it, and only the name “Black” written on the envelope. Oskar interprets it as his father’s final challenge to overcome his phobias, and begins tracking down every person with the surname “Black” in New York City in an effort to discover what the key will unlock.

Max Von Sydow is always a welcome sight.

I’m very conflicted about Extremely Loud. The film possesses a healthy batch of both pros and cons. I’d like to list the positives first. Making this movie was a bit of a bold task. Very few filmmakers have taken on 9/11 in the decade since, and none of them (to my knowledge) has approached the psychological impact it had on children. And that particular setting is fertile territory for a great drama. Director Stephen Daldry’s film flirts with greatness- or at least, goodness- throughout. Oskar’s interaction with the various citizens of New York in the years after 9/11 is touching at the core. The score and cinematography are both fantastic, helping to give the film a bit more gravitas. And Max Von Sydow is- predictably- amazing as “The Renter”, a character who can only communicate by writing notes in sharpie in a notebook.

There’s a phrase I like that does a great job of encapsulating the cons. The phrase: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”. The film took so much criticism for being cloying Oscar bait. It seemed like critics might be piling on unfairly, taking one idea about the film and running it into the ground. Just because the critics piled on the accusations of emotional manipulation doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s very emotionally manipulative. Many scenes, especially those involving Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock), are overindulgent. It makes the film feel insincere and inorganic. It’s forced. And it sucks the weight right out of what could have been a very good movie.

An image that would surely terrify Oskar Schell.

It’s also worth adding that Oskar isn’t a particularly likable kid. His fears are outlandish, even before 9/11, even going so far as to include a swing set. What 9 year old kid is afraid of a swing set? Oskar’s likability forces me right back into the conflict I mentioned at the beginning of the review. A lot of his behavior is perfectly understandable given the circumstances, having just lost his father after 9/11. But it certainly doesn’t help the film to have an emotionally detached kid running around New York after 9/11 as an indifferent observer of the world around him. Indifferent, that is, unless they can help him in his own task. This is especially true because so many of the people he meets greet him warmly.

Where all of this ends up for me is 3 stars out of 5, a film that came close- not incredibly close, lest you fear my pun- to being very good. But too much baggage weighs it down and prevents it from bigger and better things. If you’ve been avoiding it like I was, don’t. It’s not that bad, not by a long shot. It just isn’t as good as it begs you to believe.


10 Comments

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10 responses to “Blu Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

  1. I had mixed thoughts about this movie too. I disliked many of the performances, except for Max von Sydow and surprisingly Sandra Bullock, who I thought was decent after her disgusting turn in the atrocious The Blind Side. I gave the film 6/10, and it could’ve been a lot lower, but there were some decent moments.

    • It’s very possible that I was projecting past loathing of Bullock onto her role in Extremely Loud, but her scenes were all of my least favorite. Well, except for the one where her character says she wish had died on 9/11 instead. I actually wrote that one down in my notes because of how much more I would’ve enjoyed the film if Hanks had been the one who lived.

  2. I respectfully disagree with some of your cons, but I do see where you are coming from. I absolutely loved this film, warts and all. I don’t mind films that manipulate me, as long as its trying to tell me a good story. Sometimes they lay on the saccharine really thick but there’s no substance behind it. But here, I felt the tears were worth it. They meant something. I was deeply moved by Oskar Schell, his mother, and the Renter. My tears for them felt justified.

    I like your write up, though. You touched on the good points of the film. And thanks for fanning down the flames of the unnecessarily overwhelming crucifixation of this otherwise beautiful film.

    • You’re very welcome. It’s easy to pile on but it doesn’t accomplish anything, nor does it tell readers anything they haven’t already seen. It’s not fair to the film, which deserves to be seen free of preconceived notions.

      The “emotional manipulation” thing with movies in general is something that’s been bouncing around my head for a year or two now. Spielberg, for instance, is VERY emotionally manipulative… but it certainly doesn’t make his films bad because of it. I think a lot of the time for me, it’s about subtlety. If you’re not bashing me over the head with it, or if it’s part of some grander point, I can go along with it. It’s a fine line, to be sure.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Ahah like you, WB sent me a copy of the movie and I was like ‘what the hell… why not give it a watch since it’s been laying there’. I tried to watch this last night, I tried… I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t care for the kid at all.

  4. Check you out all in the modern world!! HAHAHA

    I would be insulted if this was sent to me!!

  5. Aleksa

    I’ve been avoiding seeing this film, too, because I completely fell in love with the book. I’m actually pleased to hear they didn’t force likability on the boy, even if they seem to have done so with the mother.

  6. Craig

    In short, it is the most disgusting, manipulative abortion of a movie I have ever had the misfortune to watch. It is contrived and is the worst kind of manipulative trash.

    If you sat down and thought up ideas to milk 9/11, then this is exactly what you would come up with.

    Just thinking about it sends my rage levels through the roof.

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  8. Craig, the movie does seem a little exploitive in reference to a serious event like 9/11 since it isn’t a true story. I did find the two halves of the movie a bit pointless when the movie reveals the owner of the key, however, the confrontation and reconciliation with his mother makes the previous scenes worthwhile. I’m grateful that I saw the movie on the Blockbuster @Home website and ordered it on Blu-ray because it really enriched my life in the end. Since my family watches so many movies at home, I prefer an unlimited service like Blockbuster @Home because we are exposed to many more heartfelt movies like “Extremely Loud”.

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