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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Blu-ray Review)

29 Mar, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Box Office $31.84 million
$28.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, $35.99 BD combo
Rated ‘PG-13’ for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language.
Stars Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell.

When it comes to 9/11, it doesn’t take much to tug at the emotional heartstrings and sense of loss. So indelible are the visual memories from that tragic day.

In profoundly moving Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (except for the odd title) 9/11 is merely a backdrop to an engaging story about a boy’s loss of his father. Tweener Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn, in his first acting role) is coming to grips with the death of his dad, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), who perished along with 3,000 others when the World Trade Center collapsed after terrorists crashed two planes into the towers.

Oskar, who appears to have Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism marked by extreme intellect and severe trouble with social situations), spent countless hours with his dad exploring the meaning of words and life — underscored by a search for an imaginary sixth borough in New York City.

It was a relationship largely absent of his emotionally distant mother (Sandra Bullock), who nonetheless grieves for the loss of her husband and disconnect from Oskar. The boy, having grown close to his grandmother, imagines his father having jumped to his death from the burning towers — a fate many victims chose.

Rummaging through his father’s closet, Oskar discovers an envelope with a key and the word “Black” written on the outside. Determined to find the meaning, the young boy begins a circuitous (if not implausible) journey by deductive reasoning (there are 472 people with the name Black in the phone book) through the streets of Manhattan and beyond.

Based on a 2005 bestseller by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud works due to the cast, writing (by Eric Roth, who penned Forrest Gump) and directing (Stephen Daldry, who helmed Billy Elliot). All give significant input in the accompanying bonus material.

Two featurettes stand out: “Finding Oskar” focuses on Horn, a wunderkind from San Francisco (speaks Mandarin and Croatian) who steals (and makes) the movie with his voluminous dialog demands, mannerisms and thoughtful gazes. Horn was selected from 3,000 candidates after being discovered winning the 2008 “Jeopardy” TV show for children.

“When human beings are born with that … there is a very specific purpose they have in this world,” Bullock says of Horn. “They are going to cure something, fix something, eradicate something.”

“Ten Years Later” poignantly outlines the historical responsibility 9/11 had on filmmakers and the unintended impact of placing one name on a re-enacted remembrance wall used as a prop. As a favor to a friend, set director George DeTitta placed the actual 9/11 photo of Daniel McGinley, a trader who perished on the 89th floor of the south tower, in the screen shot. Subsequent screenings of the movie to focus groups elicited strong reactions when McGinley’s picture came up. It seems he was known by many survivors in the community for his strong Catholic faith and family ties.

The mother of a McGinley co-worker also killed that day remembers her son’s telephone call describing the staff sitting in a circle holding hands with McGinley offering support as the end approached.

“There isn’t anything that can be given to us that will ever matter more than this: I love you. You’ll be all right,” Anne Mulderry says of McGinley’s compassion to her son, Stephen, and others.

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