Saturday, 4 February 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2011
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Nominations Include Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor.

Synopsis: Oskar Schell is special child. Being an amateur inventor, pacifist, tambourine-player, etc, he and his father have a special connection, playing a game called "reconnaissance expedition", which Oskar must find clues and solve mysteries his father sets him on which makes him talk to people, and do more things he's scared of, all while learning. But then tragedy strikes and his father is killed in 9/11. Oskar is shattered, and feels alone, scared, and angry. A year after his death he finds a key in his father's closet, labelled black, inside a vase he breaks by accident. Immediately he assumes it's another clue, something he needs to figure out, and he sets out to find the lock for this key, and to try to find out what his father left him.

I watched the trailer for this film several months ago, when the initial buzz started forming around this film. I remember watching it and thinking "seriously? Best Picture potential?" and I shrugged it off, knowing it was stlil 2 or 3 months until it's release. Then  it got nominated for Best Picture (after poor reviews) and again I thought, really? But knowing it was one of 2 films I still needed to see of the nominees, I'd have to go see it. I opened my mind to give it a blank slate, and expected nothing of it. I gave it a chance.

And, well, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't that great either. Hm, where to start this review.

Oskar was an extremely unsympathetic character, which probably would've been a lot better read in the book. You can get away with a lot more things in books than you can on film. And I think this film was a good example. Oskar would frequently ask nosy questions he really had no business asking strangers, he had many quirks about him (like shaking a tambourine to calm himself), counting his lies, listing the things he was afraid of, giving random facts and just having a general inner-monologue that was slightly unnecessary in a film. All would've worked well in the book, but didn't work quite as well on film. Additionally, a lot of the time Oskar would say things about himself, but would act almost hypocritically later. For instance, he has a fear of bridges, but darts right across when the Renter (a mute neighbor of his who offers to help him on his quest) offers to share his story. He's also scared of public transit, but is okay once the Renter, once again, coaxes him on, and they exchange Oxymorons (his father and him used to have "Oxy-moron wars"). This was no fault of Thomas Horn's (the actor of Oskar), or even Jonathan San Froer's (the authors). It was that of the screenwriter, who didn't seem to follow through on things written. Additionally, there seems to be much more to Oskar than is shown in the film. We get a list read to us that he's an Inventor, a Francophile, a Pacifist, and we never get to see any of that. We only get it read to us on a list.

Thomas Horn, who played Oskar, was quite good, but you can tell he has not had too much experience. This is Thomas Horn's very first film, and I must say he did quite well for this being his first. However, many of the voice-overs were very monotone, and he, in fact, spoke monotone a lot of the time, except for when he was angry and yelling (the latter, he did very, very well). He was convincing as the quirky, unique Oskar, even if a little stiff or awkward at times.

One part I was excited for about this film though, was Alexandre Desplat would be scoring it. Desplat, being my favourite film composer, I was delighted, and as always, he didn't disappoint. His music was simple, and so melancholy, but it had a great effect. Mr. Desplat was indeed snubbed this year, missing out on several different opportunities, having scored Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II, Carnage, The Ides of March, and a Better Life.

While the summaries of this story boast about it being about Oskar's quest to find the lock that the key his father had, it isn't really. While it certainly was a part of it, it wasn't too as well as it could've been. Many a times we see little clips of the different people he visited (usually all looking purposefully at the camera, no Oskar involved), or very small clips with no conversation where we see Oskar interacting. We get the idea he's met so many people, since we see him scrap-booking pictures of everyone he's met, but we don't really get to see any of that, besides one or two characters. Instead, what we mostly see if the many tantrums of Oskar, the many times he leaves his apartment in the night, in his pajamas, out doing something or other, or flashbacks to "the worst day". In a way, I felt like, well, not a lot happened. The movie didn't go very far forward, and I felt like we had very little character development. Most of the time Oskar was rude to the Renter, or his mother, or the doorman, or he was in his room either crying, or looking at his maps. It could've been a meaningful story,  had the option of the people he'd met, heard their stories, and realizing we all have stories, and we've all lost someone. It could've been very impactful. Instead that route isn't taken and it's a shame. There was potential.

Overall, the word that floated through my mind while watching this movie was "pretentious". I had never really understood what people meant when they said a film tried too hard. I do now. It tried to hard to be "deep", it tried too hard to have a quirky little boy, and it tried too hard to show Oskar's grief and his thoughts. Several times in the film we get this image of a man falling through the air (presumably out of one of the twin towers), and it just seems so forced. Force for an emotional reaction. Of course, there is one (as I could tell from the sniffling from those around me in the audience), but the times that were the saddest were the conversation, were the "i love you"s that were almost unheard, and those moments that seemed more natural. Those were the moments where the film was at it's best, and really had something going for it. But in the end, I feel like we hardly moved forward. It was countless moments of Oskar being sad, when we could've gotten more in-depth to some of the people Oskar and the Renter met. While it was a sad film with a good message, it look a long time to get there, and with too many 2d characters.

Will it win Best Picture? It hasn't a hope. I still wonder why it was nominated, especially given that it had to get at least 5% of the overall number #1 choice votes. While it was an okay film, it was definitely the bottom of the 9 nominated, though I have seen a lot, a lot worse films this year. And Max von Sydow hasn't a hope either. Christopher Plummer already has it all wrapped up. Not that I thought Von Sydow's performance was particularly noticeable, much less award-worthy, but nevertheless.

Not a terrible movie, but not a great one either. Again, when asked if I liked this film, I simply shrugged, because there wasn't a whole lot to say about it. It was just okay.


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