Some films highlight just how sensitive modern day society is, others reflect how intolerant we are of certain disorders, be it mental, physical or developmental and some films just set out to make you cry.
'Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud' is one film that manages to do all of the above, in a very heart-wrenching and believable manner, with the film's success resting firmly in the tiny hands of lead-star, Thomas Horn.
Oskar Schell is anything but an ordinary nine year old. He suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a condition which affects his ability to interact with others socially and makes him very anxious. Despite this set-back, he is an incredibly intelligent young boy, with an absolutely astounding memory. He idolised his father, who was tragically killed in the 9/11 attacks. Whilst searching in his father's closet, Oskar breaks a vase and finds a key inside of it, subsequently becoming obsessed with trying to find its lock. On his adventure, he meets several peculiar characters, such as the mysterious man known simply as 'The Renter', who cannot speak at all and must write down anything that he wishes to say. It's an utterly charming plot that has divided people not due to its cast's portrayal of its characters, nor the crew's representation of the story-line, but rather the simple fact that its plot revolves around the traumatic events of 9/11, particularly the mystery that surrounds 'the falling man'.
The first thing that strikes you is how salient the cast is, the most remarkable not being box-office favourites Tom Hanks or Sandra Bullock or even the increasingly popular Violas Davis, but rather the remarkable unknown lead, Thomas Horn. His performance was truly breath-taking, especially considering his young age. Anyone who says that Oskar was an incredibly annoying character and deserved a slap should be ignored immediately. Horn's portrayal of a somewhat autistic child mourning the loss of his father was near perfect and proved him to be one of the names that we should watch out for in the coming years. Although nearly certain to be overlooked, Bullock's performance as Linda Schell was also utterly brilliant, portrayed with a heart-breaking honesty that several times reduced me to tears. There is one scene in particular where Horn and Bullock's acting capabilities shine, where Oskar tells his Mother that he wishes that it was her that died instead of his Father, to which she replies on with "me too". Max Von Syndow is the only member of the cast to be nominated for an Oscar this year (nominated for 'Best Supporting Actor for his role as 'The Renter'), which is particularly impressive seen as his character doesn't utter a single word throughout the entirety of the film. The expressions on his face speak for his character, as do his actions. He is utterly fantastic and, like the rest of the cast, manages to convey a variety of difficult emotions with a single look.
Director Stephen Daldry is able to present his audience with a particularly poignant film without making it into a mawkish love-letter to weepy films. It's a film of tragic loss, yes, but it also focuses on the kindness of strangers, the fragility of relationships and the uniqueness of each individual life. It is uplifting in unexplainable ways and moving in more ways than you ever thought was possible. The cinematography doesn't try to distract your attention with cheap gimmicks or pretentious art-house techniques, but rather lets it's own beauty speak for itself. Daldry phsyically puts the viewer inside Oskar's head several times throughout the film, making the more empathetic members of the audience feel Oskar's fear and frustration towards objects, people or noises. This is particularly prominent in the montage scene where Oskar reveals to the audience what he is afraid of, starting off quite calm and quiet, with the cinematography reflecting that, transitioning from item to item fairly slowly and building up into quick, paranoid flashes as Oskar becomes more panicky and loud.
So exactly what are the critics and viewers complaining about, if not the acting, directing or cinematography?
It would seem to be the writing, mainly the fact that the main character suffers from Asperger's syndrome and his Father died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A ridiculous amount of viewers have came out of the screening complaining that Oskar's character was endlessly annoying and that the film-makers choice of having Thomas Schell die as a result of the attacks was bad taste. First and foremost, people's inability to understand why Oskar is so 'annoying' reflects just how intolerant society is when it comes to illnesses and disorders. A lack of understanding results in insensitive reactions such as these. Second, the film was based upon a novel in which, yes, you guessed it, a boy's Father dies in the 9/11 attacks. Literature is an art-form, and like all art-forms, it entitles its author to write about anything that he or she wishes to, regardless of its controversial nature. Neither the film-makers nor the author approached the matter in an insensitive manner, therefore I cannot understand why there has been such a massive backlash. My only conclusion is that people have heard that this film is about the terrorist attacks and automatically assumed it was attempting to stir up controversy, without taking note of its artistic merit.
At times, this is a heart-wrenching film and is guaranteed to make the hardest of men a little bit teary-eyed in its most emotional scenes, but the sincere dialogue and the beautiful acting truly make this a must see film. Remember to bring the kleenex.