Oscar Blindspots: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Before we get done with 2021, I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 2011

Going into a film with low expectations can often be rewarding. But, every once in a while, your expectations weren’t low enough. Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was that film.

Thomas Horn stars as Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old boy on the autism spectrum living in New York with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock). Oskar’s father Thomas (Tom Hanks) died during the September 11th attacks. Often, Thomas would send Oskar on expeditions to stimulate his mind and communicate with others. Following Thomas’ death, Oskar finds a key with the name “Black” on an envelope and becomes obsessed with finding where the key fits.

Oskar finds hundreds of Blacks in the phone book and sets out on talking to each and every one of them. Eventually, he recruits the Renter (Max Von Sydow), a mute old man staying in a room with his grandmother, to help him on his missions. Will Oskar find where the key fits and will he find a reason for his father’s death?

Many a filmmaker has used autism as a plot point. Sometimes it is used effectively and sometimes it is more cringeworthy. This is definitely the latter. Oskar as a character, as well as Horn’s characterization, is a mishmash of quirks and ticks that the filmmakers read in a book or study. Nothing about the character feels real. In fact, outside of him being nervous a lot, he is wildly independent and capable.

For the great majority of the film, Oskar travels throughout the far reaches of New York City completely on his own and gets to everywhere he needs to go with little issue. He travels with a tambourine to calm down, but he doesn’t use it that often. His autism is used as an excuse to be mean to others. Instead of using autism as a plot point, it is used as a plot device.

Not only do the filmmakers exploit autism, but they also ring every bit of sentimentality and exploitative emotion out of 9/11. Instead of mentioning the events or recalling them through conversation, they directly invoke terrifying imagery, including an animated shot of the building falling down into frame with Hanks following mid-air. Not only does it feel exploitative, it just feels gross.

Hanks and Bullock do their level best with nothing characters, but their screentime is very limited and they have no real impact on the film. Von Sydow (in an Oscar-nominated role) does as well as could be expected but is limited by the screenplay. It’s almost criminal to saddle one of the great voices in the history of cinema with a role that does not allow him to speak, but that just adds to the shortsightedness of the film.

Horn’s problems are more to do with the character than the actor, but his greenness does show. There is no consistency with Oskar as a character and at no point does the audience sympathize with this kid. It’s more exhausting to keep up with his venture than it is enticing.

Lots of other famous faces pop up in nothing roles. Viola Davis is the first Black name that Oskar encounters, while John Goodman does absolutely nothing as the doorman of Oscar’s building. The only one who really gets a chance to shine is Jeffrey Wright as Davis’ character’s husband. He has a long back-and-forth with Oskar late in the film which gives the film a much-needed jolt of energy.

The craft aspects are nothing to write home about. I couldn’t tell you anything particularly interesting about how the film is shot. The scene with Wright does have some pop of color, but it is so out of touch with the rest of the film’s pastiche that it’s more of a distraction.

I’m sure Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was made with the best of intentions. But the tone is so misguided and the message so muddled that nothing of any coherence could be gleaned from the experience. I can’t say this film is the worst Best Picture nominee, but I’m not sure others could be much worse.

Next week: One of the most forgettable Steven Spielberg films gets a first look with War Horse

All Oscar Blindspots

One comment

  1. I could not disagree more. This is a wonderful film and Thomas Horn did an amazing job of acting his part, he deserves an Oscar. Bullock’s and Hanks’ roles are appropriately proportioned to the story and Goodman is just a cameo, not central to the story. Von Sydow was Oscar nominated BECAUSE of his silence not in spite of it. If anyone skips this movie due to this review then you owe them an apology. I realize I am 10 years late to even finding this movie but I am glad I stumbled across it. Well worth the watch.


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