Published in 2005, Jonathan Safran Foer’s second novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close revisited the deadliest act of terrorism committed on American soil through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy.
Soon after British director Stephen Daldry began the slow process of bringing Foer’s haunting story to the multiplexes, aware of the sensitive touch required to adapt this powerful material.
In the interim, he made The Reader with Kate Winslet, but all of the years of effort with this long-cherished project appear to have been worthwhile.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is nominated as Best Picture at this month’s Oscars, and the film has attracted a deserved second nomination for veteran Max von Sydow as Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
The box office cache of co-stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock should woo mainstream audiences to a gently paced film that conjures chilling memories of the Twin Towers shrouded in smoke.
Indeed, the film opens with the blurred image of a man falling through the air against the backdrop of a blue sky filled with the flutter of discarded paper.
We quickly realise this could be one of the many people who jumped from the buildings that fateful September morning.
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) remembers the day well – ‘the worst day’ – when he lost his beloved father Thomas (Tom Hanks), shattering the happy home of his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock).
The boy suffers from Asperger’s-like symptoms and he carries a tambourine, which soothes him in times of stress.
When his father was alive, they used to play a scavenger hunt game called Reconnaissance Expedition, which involved looking for clues throughout New York City.
An old key found in a smashed vase sparks Oskar’s imagination and the youngster becomes convinced that Thomas had left him a clue from beyond the grave.
A late-night encounter with the mute, elderly man (von Sydow) who rents a room in his grandmother’s apartment provides Oskar with an unlikely accomplice for the search.
Their odyssey criss-crosses the boroughs including a memorable visit to despondent wife Abbey Black (Viola Davis), who tells the boy, “Finding the lock that key fits would be a miracle.”
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is anchored by a mesmerising performance from newcomer Horn, who is the emotional heart of the piece.
The scene in which he argues with his mother and snaps ‘I wish it were you in the building instead of him’ is deeply upsetting.
Hanks is glimpsed in flashback and Bullock impresses in her few scenes, but von Sydow dominates all of his scenes, conveying heartbreaking emotion through his eyes and gestures.
The resolution to Oskar’s search feels contrived, almost preposterous, but the excellent casting and flashes of Daldry’s directorial brio counterbalance our incredulity.