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Movie review: Not 'Close' enough to capturing 9/11 grief

Published January 22, 2012 7:36 am

Review • Drama cleans up the rough edges of tragedy.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Faced with a movie like "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which centers on a New York family in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, one response is to say "too soon."

It's not too soon for thoughtful movies to examine the emotional toll of the many deaths on that fateful Tuesday morning . It is too soon for a movie that — like director Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel — softens the blow by blithely equating that tragic event to the billion other ways human beings die, grieve and heal.

Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) is a 9-year-old with a lot on his mind. He is a junior inventor, inspired by his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), a jeweler with a furtive imagination. But it's been a year since he was able to talk to his father. It's the fall of 2002, and Dad was in an upper floor of one of the World Trade Center towers when the planes hit.

Oskar's father often devised riddles for him, and Oskar believes he has found the clue to his father's last mystery: a key in an envelope, hidden in a vase. The envelope has the word "Black" written on it. Oskar becomes convinced that once he finds the lock this key fits, he will learn his father's final legacy. So he looks up all of the 600-plus Blacks in the New York City phone book and sets about to talk to each one.

The search brings Oskar into contact with a wide variety of New Yorkers — from a quilting circle to an angry divorcee (Viola Davis). It also brings him together with The Renter (Max von Sydow), a strange mute man who rents a room in the apartment of his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) across the street.

At the same time, Oskar is wrestling with a secret: He keeps the family's answering machine hidden away from his crying mom (Sandra Bullock) because it contains the last recording of his father's voice.

Daldry employs much care and craft in every moment, every shot. The movie is burnished to the point where nothing will catch on its smooth surface, including any emotional attachment from the audience.

The performances are touching, particularly Bullock as the grieving mother. Von Sydow, never speaking, delivers a strong take on a man coping with decades of regret.

Screenwriter Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") adapts Foer's novel by stressing Oskar's quirkiness, his obsessive list-making and journaling, and his beyond-his-years belief that he must be responsible for the well-being of everyone around him — his grieving mother especially. In so doing, the movie infantilizes the audience's response to Thomas' death and the deaths of all the others in the towers. Because he can't comprehend the magnitude of 9/11 (something adults still haven't managed to do), the movie never even comes close. —

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'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

A boy tries to make sense out of his father's death on 9/11 in a movie that treats that tragic day a bit too blithely.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, Jan. 20.

Rating • PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.

Running time • 129 minutes.