That’s not how you apply the Cobra Clutch.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/20/2012 (wide)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman
Rated: PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.
Runtime: 2 hours, 9 minutes


It’s pretty but don’t swim in it.

On paper, the plot of “Extremely Loud and Incredible Close” seems like a blatant ploy to tug on heartstrings and garner awards attention (and the title’s a little cumbersome). A man dies in the World Trade Center on 9/11, his autistic son discovers a key with no lock shortly thereafter and systematically scours New York City to complete one last quest left for him by his father. As if the story wasn’t enough, Tom Hanks plays Dad and Sandra Bullock is Mom the widow; that alone generally makes a film Oscar bait.

And yet, the end result is that “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (seriously, that’s the title?) is one of the very best films of 2011 (NY & LA release last December). How does something so saccharine-sounding turn things around? It all starts with director Stephen Daldry.

If anyone was going to make this play as sincerely as it needed to, it would be him. After all, the notion of a teenage boy being raised by his blue collar father following mom’s death, who wants to do nothing more in life than become a ballet dancer, well … that just shouldn’t work. It’s so sweet theaters should have handed out insulin with tickets. But it did work, and over ten years after “Billy Elliot”, Daldry is working his cinematic magic once again.

Helping him achieve his vision is a remarkable cast. Sure, Hanks and Bullock use their magnetic on-screen presences to the fullest, but it’s young Thomas Horn and the other primary supporting cast that make the film. Horn doesn’t have prior experience in front of the camera, unless you count his win on kids Jeopardy!, and it’ll be interesting to see if he makes a run at future films. Playing a high-functioning autistic boy, there are necessary and understandable emotional cues that the character is not supposed to manifest. This works in favor of a fledgling actor. However, to his credit Horn also more than ably captured the frustration and extreme ends of the emotional spectrum asked of him; being the central character, he’s on-screen the majority of the two hours and that’s asking a lot for anyone, let alone a young kid.

Buoying Horn’s performance are Max von Sydow, John Goodman, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright. The combination of those four actors alone is enough to pique my interest in any film, and here in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (you’re really sticking with that title?), it makes for some very powerful and moving scenes. In particular, von Sydow is the one who comes closest to stealing the show. Playing a man who has vowed never to speak again, everything is communicated through either the “Yes/No” each etched in his palms, scribbling on a notepad, or pure talent. Reading his body language is like reading a script. It’s impressive, and at times heart-wrenching, to watch.

Another key element working in the film’s favor is Alexandre Desplat’s score. As always, he’s been a busy man, also contributing his talents in 2011 to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2“, “Carnage“, “The Tree of Life“, “A Better Life” and “The Ides of March“. Here, he adds all the right notes once again, helping to emphasize and cradle the emotions on screen, rather than simply shape and form them like other composers have a habit of doing.

Obviously, this isn’t the kind of movie one enters into lightly. We’re not talking about some vapid rom-com made only to distract audiences from reality and pad producers’ wallets. So despite however many sheets of Kleenex you might go through over the course of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (I give up, that’s the title), the emotional roller coaster is worth every penny you’ll shell out to see this, whether in theaters or at home. A 4.5 out of 5, this deserves some serious awards attention, and although that sort of thing doesn’t really matter, it would just be nice to see truly worthy material be recognized for standards of excellence too often ignored by other films that are slapped together just to meet the bottom line.

4.5 out of 5