After appearing in a divisive Oscar nominee with The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock later starred in another film that some felt didn’t deserve its place in the Best Picture pack. I still remember distinct whooping coming from the audience when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’s Best Picture nomination was announced to the assembled crowd of press and PR people. This to me signals that one of its main intentions was to garner as many Oscar nominations as possible which is reinforced by the fact it had a limited release during the final week of 2011.
The film also includes a ton of familiar faces including Bullock, Tom Hanks, Max Von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jeffrey Jones. Unfortunately for this talented bunch they’re simply supporting players with the lead role being taken by Thomas Horn, a young man who had no prior acting experience before being cast in the film’s lead role. This to me was one of the key problems with Extremely Loud as the character of Oskar Schell is a tricky one to pull off due to the fact that he suffers from some form of autism. I do feel that even a talented child actor would struggle to make Oskar seem sympathetic so in my opinion Horn was fighting a losing battle. It got to the point that occasionally during the film I just wanted to slap Oskar as Horn wasn’t able to convey the fact that his character sometimes spoke out of turn without realising it. As well as including the Academy favourite of a character with a learning difficulty, Extremely Loud’s other ace in the hole was that it concentrated on the events of 9/11. Oskar’s father Thomas Schell, played by Hanks, was the only person who really understood him and so his son was devastated when he was killed at the World Trade Center. The film centres on Oskar’s search to find the lock that fits the key that his father left for him and that had the name Black on it. Although the quest for the mysterious Black is an interesting one, I felt that director Stephen Daldry didn’t do enough to make us care about Oskar’s end goal.
I personally felt there were only two enjoyable parts of the film the first of which is when Max Von Sydow enters the story as a character simply known as ‘The Renter’. The mystery man is renting a house with Oskar’s grandmother and cannot speak leading to some interesting odd couple scenes between the pair. It’s quite clear that The Renter is Oskar’s grandfather as our protagonist starts to notice similarities in the mannerisms between he and his late father. Von Sydow rightfully received Extremely Loud’s only nomination although he ultimately lost the Best Supporting Actor fight to Christopher Plummer. I then had to wait until the film’s conclusion for something else to grab me namely Sandra Bullock’s time to shine as Oskar’s mother Linda. Throughout the film Linda had been somewhat of an afterthought but Bullock proved why she’d been cast in the movie during the revelation that her character had been ahead of her son the entire time. The story of Linda’s meeting of all of the Blacks was more engaging than anything that Oskar had done during the entire film and it made me wish that we’d have had more of her on screen during the film.
Aside from Bullock and Von Sydow everything else about Extremely Loud was felt cloying from the overblown score to the focus on subjects that the producers knew that the Academy loved. I do feel I’ve been spoilt a bit after watching Hugo, a film with two fine child actors, but I think that if Oskar had been cast more successfully then I would’ve enjoyed Extremely Loud a little more. Horn had in fact been cast after producer Scott Rudin saw him on a game show and I bet that he regretted his decision after seeing the finished product. Thankfully Horn has now returned to his studies and is putting acting on the back-burner for the time being and let’s just hope that his skills have vastly improved if he ever decides to darken the big screen again.