Somehow this Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock drama got an Oscar nod for Best Picture. This technically stunning Blu-ray edition of the film makes one wonder how that was possible....
Warner / 129 Minutes / 2011 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: March 27, 2012
I'll never forget it. My colleagues and I each had $20 on the line for our Academy Award pool, and we were all up early on nominee-announcement morning, chit-chatting on the computer and trash talking like we were participating in a kind of super-dweeb fantasy football league. In any case, among major categories, it was me versus another guy for first place, with the tiebreaker being the number of Best Picture nominees (remember, the Academy said it would be between five and ten). My pick was eight - four icons on the left of the screen, four on the right - and I was thrilled with victory until at the last moment, above Jennifer Lawrence's head comes Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, impossibly catching a ninth nomination slot.
So it's fair to say that when it came time to actually see the damned movie in theatres, I was biased and grumpy about it - if director Stephen Daldry would like to mail me my twenty bucks, that'd be great - but in the spirit of award-season movie magic, I decided to give the film a shot. The novel it was based upon had received major acclaim, and while Daldry's films haven't totally gotten my blood pumping (I'd call Billy Elliott and The Hours good movies, not excellent ones), this one had a big cast - Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow - and it just might work.
As poignant as its 9/11 tale can be, though, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the kind of cheesy hyper-melodrama that gives Oscar a bad name. Its framework has potential - a father (Hanks) dies in the attacks, but leaves behind a key for his son (Thomas Horn) who spends the movie figuring out what it unlocks - but the movie never lets its heartbreaking source material take any kind of authentic root. Grossly manipulative and preachy to a fault, Daldry's movie manages to be so treacly that it undermines fine performances (especially Bullock's) that simply crumble under the leaden weight of the movie's bloated sentiments.
I feel like a monster for being so harsh on a movie with such tragic real-life undercurrents to it, but even if there's a nobility within the constructs of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as a movie, it doesn't make much of a case for itself. It's a picture that almost bullies its points across, rather than allowing them to entrance viewers with any kind of subtlety. There's a hushed, reverent pathos in here somewhere, but it's buried under sheets of Hollywood heavy-handedness.