Thomas Schell and Oskar, his 9-year old son are very close. Best pals even.
Dad and the autistic boy — or that’s the best definition the boy himself could come up with — play with oxymorons, look for clues for a mysterious sixth borough in New York and do all kinds of intellectual stimulus.
Then Thomas — played by Tom Hanks — dies in one of the twin towers on 9/11.
Oskar refuses to give September 11th a name. It’s not 9/11 or a terrorist attack, he just calls it “the worst day.”
Sandra Bullock plays Oskar’s mom. When Thomas dies, she disconnects from the world. Their relationship is not nearly as close as what the boy and his father had. And the boy can’t talk to her. He has a terrible secret tied to a series of phone calls his dad made to their apartment before dying. Phone calls he never shared with her.
There’s a lot of guilt. Seeking to stay connected to his dad, Oskar builds a shrine to him in his closet. He desperately tries to keep his memory alive and worries that it is fading to oblivion. Then he finds a key in an envelope hidden in a vase. The name black is on the envelop. Oskar thinks his dad left the key for him.
That starts a search of a city with hundreds of people named Black.
It takes an hour to get to this point. A plodding, uninteresting hour from a tedious screenplay by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and slow, deliberate direction from Stephen Daldry (The Hours). Too slow. Too deliberate. The film comes close to a complete screeching halt when Max von Sydow’s character, Renter, shows up.
Renter, a mute, rents a room from the boy’s grandmother. Renter and the kid click. Their relationship gives spark to a story struggling to find somewhere to go. Renter — like the boy’s dad — pushes, prods and asks questions. He’s an outlet for the non-stop chatter and theorizing by the boy. There is energy. There is passion.
As suddenly and inexplicably as he shows up, Renter leaves.
Then there is nothing. When von Sydow’s character disappears, so does any reason to keep watching the film. A reason to care and stay involved is critical to this type of movie. The removal of Renter from the script destroys the essential chemistry.
The studio is pushing this movie like crazy. Ads and trailers rave about it being 2011‘s best or the best this or that. The truth — unfortunately — is disappointing. Somewhere in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close there probably is a great movie.
It just didn’t get made.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, scenes of 9/11. It opens Friday, Jan. 20 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.