Even after more than a decade,  it’s difficult to know how to approach to the events of September 11th, 2001.

As Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close demonstrates, many aren’t ready to see the tragedy as the backdrop to a fantasy or, for that matter, as Oscar bait.

The star-studded film, based on the (far superior) novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and directed by Stephen Daldry, awkwardly switches between a talented cast at the top of their game reacting to an unexpected loss and an implausible, coincidence-driven treasure hunt plot line that wouldn’t even be satisfying in a children’s movie.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of Oskar (Thomas Horn), a boy on a desperate search for a piece of his father (Tom Hanks), who died when the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Believing that a key labeled “Black” that he found in his father’s closet could lead him to the long-lost sixth borough of New York City, Oskar attempts to contact everyone with the last name Black in the city, all while forging a relationship with his mute grandfather and trying to keep both journeys a secret from his mother (Sandra Bullock).

Newcomer Horn dominates the 150-minute movie, and generally does an excellent job acting. He comes across as years younger when he narrates, as he trades in his emotional perceptiveness and conversational tone for short sentences and a wooden performance.

Horn was representative of the entire film. Despite strong performances from all of the actors involved, storytelling devices like the narration and tastelessly edited flashbacks of 9/11 consistently remind the audience that it’s in a theater watching a movie. Not one of the other eight Oscar-nominated films, not even the misguided The Help, struggles so much at an editorial level.

The subject matter only increased the pressure on the film to perform. While Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center approached 9/11 by telling a true and inspirational story, Daldry was the first to release a high-profile fictionalized account of the tragedy, and he may have
paid the price for it.

The film is not without its good decisions. What the key eventually opens is both realistic and works to connect the losses on 9/11 to losses that most viewers would have experienced. Characters like the man who gave too many hugs and the obnoxious doorman (John Goodman) give the film much-needed comic relief.

But ultimately, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is too poorly done to be recommendable, let alone be nominated for an Academy Award. In the last half hour, a montage of the same almost-unknown side characters plays out three times, seemingly introducing the audience to a whole assortment of new people just enough so that viewers will feel bad and break out into tears.

By that point in the film, the powerful, silent moments that were driven by the emotions surrounding 9/11 are gone. The director’s numerous attempts to milk the weak storyline for extra smiles or tears fall flat, and his attempt to give the film a happy ending for the sake of having one came far closer to inducing groans than satisfaction.

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