Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Premise: A boy with Asperger’s syndrome copes with the loss of his father in the September 11th attack. When he discovers a key among his father’s belongings, the boy searches for the lock to which it belongs.
What Works: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has some undeniably powerful sequences. The boy’s search for the lock is really about his attempt to maintain his connection to his father and that gives his journey around New York City some added dramatic weight. For a portion of the story the protagonist is accompanied by his mute neighbor, played wonderfully by Max von Sydow. Sydow gives the acting highlight of the film and it’s a subtle but emotional performance. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close evokes the September 11th attack as part of the premise of its story and although it gets emotional, the film makes reference to the event in a mostly tasteful way. This film is in part an attempt to come to grips with the far reaching impact of the 9/11 attack and as the boy travels across the city he comes into contact with people who have been similarly touched by tragedy. Whatever its other flaws, the picture cannot be accused of September 11th exploitation.
What Doesn’t: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has some serious flaws. One of the film’s main problems is in its protagonist. The boy has Asperger’s syndrome and the filmmakers include traits of that condition in the character, including impatience and difficulty relating to others. Although these traits are very much a part of Asperger’s syndrome, the symptoms overwhelm the ability of the audience to empathize with the boy. He says and does things that are so awful or obnoxious that viewers, even those who have an understanding of Asperger’s syndrome, will be turned off by the character and be unable to invest in the film. Other problems of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are embedded in its story. The very premise of the film lacks credibility. The idea that this boy would be allowed to run around New York City, mostly unaccompanied and in some cases cutting school, is unbelievable. The credibility problems of the story get worse, rather than better, as the film goes on, culminating in a disastrous finale. The whole point of the story is that boy’s search for the source of the key will lead him to some connection with his deceased parent or at least a way to make sense out of the senseless act of violence that killed his father. But when the boy reaches his final destination the resolution has nothing to do with that search, not even tangentially or thematically. In fact, it renders the bulk of the film’s running time a waste; the picture could literally have been a third of its length without losing much of anything. The story then goes on with a denouement that lasts forever, has multiple conclusions, and introduces new information about the boy’s search that makes the entire story look ludicrous.
Bottom Line: The problems of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close outweigh its successes. The film has a few strong moments but those are outweighed by poor storytelling decisions.
Episode: #374 (February 5, 2012)