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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Walk The Whine"
1 stars

As those of you who have read my reviews with any degree of regularity over the years have presumably noticed by now, I am not a person who is particularly easy to offend for the most part. Oh sure, I may get surly or unpleasant when faced with a lousy movie every now and then but rarely if ever am I completely and utterly appalled by them. In essence, I am of the belief that there is no subject matter that should be deemed considered to be too touchy or taboo to be dealt with in cinematic terms as long as it is handled in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. Therefore, when I tell you that "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the screen adaptation of the 2005 best-seller by Jonathan Safran Foer dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of a boy whose father was one of those killed in the World Trade Center, is not just one of the most unspeakable repellent and offensive movies that I have ever seen but one of the most repulsive things that I have ever encountered in my entire life, I assure you that I am not the type to get my nose all out of joint over anything minor or piddling. This is a film so thoroughly rotten to its smarmy and diseased little core that tearing into it here hardly seems an adequate method of dealing with it--going after the negative with battery acid and a sledgehammer might be closer to what it deserves.

The little twerp at the center of the story is Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) and when we first see him, he is fidgeting in the back of a limousine during the funeral of his beloved father Thomas (Tom Hanks), who just happened to be doing business in one of the World Trade Center towers on what Oskar repeatedly dubs "The Worst Day." In flashbacks, we learn of the close bond shared between father and son and of the elaborate games and puzzles devised by Thomas designed to help bring Oskar, who claims to have been tested inconclusively for Asperger's Syndrome (though most armchair diagnosticians in the audience will find themselves offering second opinions in the matter), out of his numerous shells with activities that have him surreptitiously overcoming his fears by hanging out with hoboes in the park and such. Now, he spends his days obsessing about his deceased dad, privately worshipping at a secret shrine he has created to the man (including an answering machine tape filled with messages that he left in the confusing period of time between the plane hitting the tower and its collapse) and excoriating his still-grieving mom (Sandra Bullock) for the crime of not being his dad--not only does the little brat keep those recordings hidden from her, he flat-out tells her at one point that he wishes that she had died in the attacks instead and it doesn't sound for an instant like something thoughtlessly spewed out in a fit of wild emotion. Oh, and during the brief moments when he isn't making his mother's life even more miserable than it already is, he enjoys cursing out his building's doorman (John Goodman) whenever the working-class oaf has the temerity to interrupt the little brat's endless reveries with questions about where he is going and why he isn't in school.

The action, such as it is, picks up about a year after 9/11 when Oskar stumbles upon a key in an envelope labeled "Black" stashed away inside of a vase and instantly assumes that it is yet another one of his father's elaborate puzzles. When a locksmith mindlessly suggests that "Black" may be the name of the person who the key actually belongs to, Oskar instantly (and illogically) assumes that whomever belongs to the key must have known his father and by seeking out and finding its owner, he will somehow be able to grow even closer to the man. Therefore, armed with nothing more than a knapsack, loads of iced coffee, plenty of self-conscious moxie (which seems to be at severe odds with the neuroses that he prattles on about endlessly), a therapy tambourine (you heard me) designed to help ward off various traumas in the quirkiest manner possible and a refusal to utilize any form of public transportation, Oskar begins to visit every single one of the hundreds of Blacks listed in the phone book in the hopes that they can answer the mystery about the key. Of course, this is easier said than done but luckily, nearly every single Black he encounters is perfectly willing to welcome this strange little boy into their homes, no matter what is going on in their lives at the moment, and allow him to touch them, though not as much as they touch him. For some of his journeys, Oskar is joined by a mysterious old man (Max von Sydow) who has recently moved in with his grandmother across the street, refuses to communicate except through notes or by flashing the "Yes" or "No" signs drawn on his palms and seems to exist solely to try to earn Max von Sydow the Oscar that he deserved to win decades ago for his work in the immortal "Flash Gordon."

Having never read the book (just the typography on the front cover alone was enough to set my teeth gnashing), I cannot speculate as to how any of this might have played on the printed page but on the big screen, via the contributions of screenwriter Eric Roth and director Stephen Daldry (whose nauseating adaptations of "The Hours" and "The Reader" almost seem palatable compared to what he has wrought here), the end result is rotten beyond belief. For starters, the whole 9/11 angle to the story is unspeakably repulsive because there is no real reason for it to be there in the first place. The ads for the film have been stressing that it is not a story about 9/11--presumably in an effort to attract the kind of viewers who would normally avoid anything on the subject on the grounds that it would be too depressing--and for once, the commercials are correct, if only inadvertently. Simply put, there is nothing about the story that is intrinsically about 9/11 and its aftermath--Oskar's father could have died in a fire or plane crash or any of the other stupid, pointless and tragic ways that loved ones are taken from us every day of the week. Instead, the 9/11 angle appears to have been trotted out for no other reason than to serve as some kind of grandiose emotional trigger meant to evoke tears and anguish without actually putting much effort into inspiring those feelings on its own. And once you realize that 9/11 is utterly irrelevant to the proceedings, every single moment that touches on it--from the abstract opening shot featuring (presumably) Oskar's father plummeting though the air to ginned-up recreations of the burning buildings to the tacky closing bit in which Oskar's riding a swing through the air is clumsily meant to invoke the aforementioned opening--takes on an exploitative manner that feels borderline pornographic after a while. Personally, I was lucky enough to have not lost anyone in 9/11 but I was nevertheless deeply offended by the shameless manner in which it has been utilized here and I can't even begin to imagine how anyone who either lost a loved one during the attacks or simply bore witness to them through their back window would react to the manner in which their grief and horror has been transformed into the sheer pap on display here.

And yet, even if the entire 9/11 angle were to be completely extracted from the narrative, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" would still be a hateful monstrosity. For starters, we would still be stuck with one of the most off-putting central characters of all time in the form of Oskar. This is a kid who seems to have been genetically engineered to be as annoying as possible. In theory, I have no problem with overly precocious kids who are wise beyond their years and are cheerfully willing to demonstrate said precocity at the drop of a hat--hell, I was probably one of those kids--but there is a line separating precocity from hate-inducing creepiness and this brat skips over that line right from the start and never looks back. Throughout the film, he takes his quirky nature--his obsessions with iced coffee and creating ludicrously detailed maps and charts chronicling his journey (not to mention a pop-up book of his traumas that ends with a page dedicated to the sight of Oskar's dad jumping into the burning tower), his tendency to endlessly rattle off raw facts as though he were a walking Wikipedia and, of course, that goddamned tambourine--and rubs it in our faces so often and so relentlessly during his quest throughout the five boroughs that I kept waiting for the disembodied voice of Paul Harvey to emerge on the soundtrack to announce "And that little boy. . .that nobody liked. . .grew up. . .to become. . .Wes Anderson. . ." And with a character as untenable as Oskar in the hands of the equally irritating Thomas Horn (a former Kids Jeopardy champion making his first and hopefully last screen appearance), the end result is a lad so flat-out malignant in every possible way that he makes the brat in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" seem cuddly by comparison. (Those of you who read my brief rant about the film in my recent article on the worst films of 2011 may recall that I said something even nastier and more offensive about little Oskar that I have chosen not to repeat her out of an inadvertent pang of good taste. That said, I do not disavow that remark in the slightest and it is still available in the other article for your perusal--if you get all offended, just remember that I warned you.)

As for the actual narrative, there is not a single shred of anything that could possibly be mistaken for recognizable or human behavior. For starters, the entire gimmick of having Oskar investigating every single Black in the NYC phone book on the off-hand assumption that the appearance of the word on the envelope bearing the all-important key beggars belief--there were episodes of "Family Matters" that had more plausible launching pads for their story lines than what is seen here. As awful as it sounds in theory, it immediately heads right into self-parody when Oskar arrive at his first Black doorstep and is greeted by none other than Viola Davis--our current cinematic avatar of noble suffering--who inexplicably lets this strange kid inside and indulges him even as her husband (Jeffrey Wright) is packing up to leave her forever at that exact moment! As with most films featuring Viola Davis, she is only on for about six minutes and Oskar keeps bopping around from one Black to the next, nearly all of whom shower him with all the love, empathy and acceptance that can be conveyed in a series of time-saving montages. If you think that this quest is utterly implausible, there is nothing here that will dissuade you of that notion. If you think that Oskar's mother must be either completely blind to her child's actions or utterly irresponsible in regard to his activities, the story tries to cover itself with a last-minute revelation that makes the entire scenario seem even more unlikely than it already was. Then, without going into too much detail, it turns out that the entire journey that Oskar has been indulging in for more than two hours of screen time was meaningless and that he could have gotten his closure if he had only been just a fraction as clever and resourceful as he is supposed to be. Under normal circumstances, I would have been outraged by the kind of moronic cop-out conclusion deployed here but by the time it finally arrived, I was so mortified by everything else that I had just witnessed that I barely registered it.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is a film that is so idiotic on every conceptual level that there are times when it almost feels like a straight-faced parody of every half-assed attempt to transform epic tragedy into art but even the worst examples of that usually have at least a trace of the kind of sincerity that this one completely lacks. This is a film that takes one of the most terrible tragedies in our history and reduces it to a level of kitsch that makes a painting of the burning World Trade Center done on black velvet with a sad clown on the side bearing witness seem dignified by comparison. For all of the profound pronouncements made by the cast and filmmakers in interviews and on all the talk shows, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" has nothing more on its mind than jerking tears in the most shameless, hackneyed and irresponsible manner possible while hopefully grabbing a few Oscar nominations along the way--the kind of jaw-dropping mess that could only possibly appeal to those few deranged individuals out there who have endlessly speculated on what a modern-day equivalent of "The Day the Clown Cried" might feel like.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22646&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/19/12 21:27:33
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User Comments

9/21/12 thx1138 The mosy annoying little turd imaginable... why couldn't he have been in the towers instead 1 stars
3/11/12 Person with Asperger's Syndrome This film is not about anyone with Asperger's Syndrome. 3 stars
2/09/12 Man Out Six Bucks Zionist schlock memorializing hawkish neocons nuking Hanks et al. with scalar weapons 4 oil 1 stars
1/25/12 Kathy OMalley Manipulative, illogical script, icky characters, horrible repeated use of falling bodies 1 stars
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  25-Dec-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Mar-2012


  DVD: 27-Mar-2012

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