Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

As a clear sufferer of Asperger Syndrome, Oskar (Thomas Horn) is not short of an anxiety or two or a measure of compulsiveness. As a result his loving and devoted father (Tom Hanks) devises a series of detective games designed to get his boy out into the world and interacting with the people and places in it, even printing faux business cards as a conduit for his son to meet people. When his father is killed in the 9/11 attacks, Oskar loses his mentor and emotional anchor. Upon rooting through his father’s stuff, he stumbles across a key that he interprets as another clue from his father's game and sets upon finding its corresponding lock. The key soon becomes a symbol of his lost connection with his dad and Oskar believes that if he finds the lock that fits the key he can somehow re-forge that connection.

What's wonderful about this film is how everything is so understated. Things are hinted at but rarely explicitly articulated such as Oskar's obvious Asperger affliction; how Oskar's relationship with his mum (Sandra Bullock) is defined by her own barely concealed inner turmoil and how the individuals Oskar encounters on his travels are clearly carrying their own grief (most likely also related to the 9/11 events). It's nice as an audience member to be treated with a measure respect and intelligence rather than be spoon fed every conceivable detail and emotion.

The film is not exploitative of 9/11 as some commentators have claimed. Rather it is a valid study on the immense grief caused by that event and the difficulties endured by the victim’s families as they piece back together their broken lives. Understandably, this will be a difficult subject for some to approach but it's an important issue to come to terms with. It's as moving of an experience as Paul Greengrass' United 93, driving home the point that we should make our connections with, and cherish, our loved ones before it's too late.

Performances are uniformly fine, particularly from Horn whose performance portrays an endearing portrait of uneasy childhood; he's an up and coming child actor to watch. Bullock is also excellent, portraying the grieving mother with realistic, subtle complexity; struggling to maintain a facade of strength for her emotionally injured son that is made more difficult by his behavioral problems whilst simultaneously dealing with her own inner torment. Hanks is predictably solid as the perfect dad, entirely devoted to his son and tirelessly working to help him overcome his social anxieties.

If there's a flaw in the film, it's that it fails to develop in continually interesting ways into its third quarter, Oskar's journey is prolonged a little beyond the point being made and interest starts to wane. But director, Stephen Daldry, brings it home strongly in a final act which incites multiple instances of tear jerkiness, a staple requirement in a film such as this.
Stuart Jamieson

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