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Let’s Rush To Judgment: ‘Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 31, 2011

I have so many reasons to be skeptical about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but when I saw the trailer on a giant movie screen, I burst into tears. Bless my divided heart!

My biggest worry is that the movie will tell me how I’m supposed to feel. After all, if any picture has the potential to be sanctimonious this holiday season, it’s this one.

Released by Warner Brothers on Christmas Day, the movie is based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel about a young boy (Thomas Horn) whose father (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center attack. Papa leaves behind a mysterious key, so the kid goes on a city-wide quest to find what it opens. Along the way, he meets interesting people and learns valuable lessons about love and belonging.

I know, right? Pass the syrup. I haven’t read Foer’s novel, but reviews suggest he succumbs to sentimentality. It’s easy to assume the Hollywood version will be even gooier.

The trailer almost begs us to feel things — deep, meaningful things. You don’t get that many scenes of a little boy running unless he’s racing toward something “important.” You don’t see slo-mo shots of paper fluttering down from the Twin Towers unless it’s going to gently land on “the truth.” You don’t see Hanks in any kind of movie unless it’s solemnly determined to change our souls.

Oh, and you don’t get U2 on the soundtrack unless you’re supposed to be moved. Most of the trailer is scored to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which stirs the specter of Bono’s self-righteousness into the mawkish stew.

And yet … “Where the Streets Have No Name” is an incredible song. And that shot of Sandra Bullock staring in confusion at the smoking Towers is a visceral reminder of what happened in 2001. And that scene where the kid hurls a box of keys, hundreds and hundreds of keys, stirs something in me. They’re like a physical manifestation of his struggle to understand his dead father.

Then there’s the reason I cried. Seeing this trailer on a big screen, with U2 blasting on a fancy sound system, was much more powerful than watching it on my laptop. In that setting, I was moved by the parade of anonymous faces that starts at 1:40. They struck me as a rapid-fire roll call of everyone who lost something on 9/11. They were everyday people, but they were symbols, too.

Was I blatantly manipulated? Lord, yes. But like the cascade of keys, the parade of faces is a little surprising. It gives me hope that maybe, maybe, maybe this movie will have legitimate feeling. It’s directed by Stephen Daldry, who did sensitive work on Billy Elliot and The Reader, and the supporting cast features titans like Viola Davis, Max Von Sydow, and Jeffrey Wright. Perhaps they’ll band together and justify my spontaneous tears.

Mark Blankenship is on Twitter as @CritCondition. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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