Oscar-charmed filmmaker Stephen Daldry takes us on an autistic odyssey in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The film follows Oskar Schell (played by the impossibly precocious Thomas Horn), an insatiably curious child who struggles to make sense of his father's senseless death in wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As he scours NYC for the lock to a key left behind by his dad (Tom Hanks), he meets a diverse kaleidoscope of people, but grows emotionally distant from his mourning mother (Sandra Bullock).
One of things that struck me about the film is how much it assaults the senses. Editor Julian Clarke has a heyday trying to tell virtually the entire in film in rushed montage form, while the abrasive sound mix wreaks havoc with the speakers in the theatre – only Alexandre Desplat's lovely score attempted to keep it from flying off the rails. It occurred to me, however, that these stylistics, while misguided, may have been to serve a higher artistic purpose. What could be read from Oskar's character is that he may be autistic. All the telltale signs are there: his obsessive fixation on a single objective, his easy distraction by sights and sounds that would be mere white noise to anyone else, his unfiltered dialogue, his psychological need for everything to add up... it all points to autism spectrum disorder (or perhaps one of the many variations thereof), which would make some of Daldry's aesthetic choices rather apt ones, if his intention was to immerse us in his central character's state of mind. While this approach is certainly ambitious and interesting, the sad fact of the matter is that it still results in a pointedly unpleasant viewing experience.
Eric Roth's screenplay, based on the bestselling novel, isn't helping. While Daldry's conspicuous direction may have been tolerable to a degree, Roth's jumbled organization of the story is not. The aforementioned over-reliance on montage sequences notwithstanding, his most glaring fault is in Oskar's incessant narration. As detailed and tricky and complex as the characterization must have been to write and perform, Oskar is still an off-putting character, and hearing his voice-over chime in every minute only exacerbates the situation. The film also abounds with contrived emotional ploys that did little to soften my stone cold heart. I may have liked to see Roth truly take advantage of New York's wildly varied geographical and demographic landscape by shifting a little more focus to Oskar's human encounters and a little less from time-hopping between dramatic events.
** out of ****