'Extremely Loud' intensely personal

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks star in the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks star in the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

BRUCE KIRKLAND, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

Editor’s Note: This movie does not open in theatres until Christmas Day.

Cue the Oscar nominations.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is destined to be named among the 10 best pictures candidates. Stephen Daldry's film is that intelligent, that reasoned, that profound and that stimulating for audiences.

It may even have a healthy life at the box office. While it deals with the tragedy of 9/11 through an intensely personal story of a family, it transcends the cloud that lingers over most of the 9/11 films that have been released so far.

Meanwhile, if Academy voters are feeling particularly frisky, and willing to take a risk, youngster Thomas Horn will be named as a best actor nominee. This may be a long shot, because he was found on the kids' version of Jeopardy and has never acted before in his life. Yet some children are naturals. Horn is one of those special talents. If placed in the right role, and handled by a director as smart and sensitive as Daldry, they can excel. That happened here. Horn is riveting and even astonishing as the boy at the heart of this story.

This is a fiction set against the real events of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. Eric Roth, who has been nominated four times for Oscars (winning for Forrest Gump) adapted the screenplay from the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Some changes have been made, as always occurs with adaptations, but the essence of Foer's book is on the screen. Among those changes, the role of the mother is expanded and there is less emphasis on the boy's point-of-view in terms of the other characters we meet.

Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, in what are support roles, play the boy's parents with dignity and believability. Hanks operates a jewelry shop in Manhattan. Bullock works in an office that happens to overlook the World Trade Centre's twin towers. Horn plays their only child, a boy just entering his teens and filled with dread.

While the place remains constant -- the family's apartment, Central Park, lower Manhattan, other key locations in New York -- time shifts effortlessly. We see the family functioning before, during and after 9/11. The focus is almost entirely on the boy and his complex emotional world, as well as his wicked sense of humour and ingenious way of looking at things. Daldry has also turned the film into a homage, even a love letter to New York City. He also once again shows he can balance pain and joy, as he did so skillfully in films such as The Hours.

This boy Oskar has issues, as he did even before 9/11. By the character's own admission, he may be dealing with Asperger Syndrome, although tests are inconclusive. He has a stultifying fear of machinery and large structures such as steel bridges. Even a set in swings in Central Park, swings that his father once used as a child, confound him. He does not socialize with strangers.

But the boy also has goals. As a result of 9/11, he is seeking answers to a mystery involving his father. The only way, he thinks, that he can deal with his grief over what he calls "the worst day" is to solve that mystery. The mission involves exploring the city and meeting strangers.

His journey into darkness becomes inspirational. This film allows people to enter the final stages of grieving about an historical event. For that, we must be thankful. For that, the Academy will be nominating Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for Oscars.

(This film is rated PG)


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