This past year marked the 10th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, and Post-9/11 Hollywood has been all about Iraq-war documentaries, Michael Moore and ‘How long do we have to wait before we can make a fictional 9/11 movie?’ Which is actually tough because the documentaries started as soon as the first plane hit the North Tower, and Michael Moore had to wait until George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, but how long did Hollywood have to wait before it could successfully make a dramatic 9/11 movie without being accused of treading on a national tragedy? Well apparently five years, as the first major ‘based-off-actual-events’ film to tackle the subject was Paul Greengrass‘ United 93, released in April of 2006, which told the story of the doomed fourth plane that crash-landed in rural Pennsylvania, and then again four months later with the Nicolas Cage-driven World Trade Center, which focused more on the first responders at ground zero on the day of. Then in the years after we got Adam Sandler‘s Reign Over Me and Robert “Edward” Pattinson‘s (shudder) Remember Me, that told completely fictional stories that somewhat revolved around the events (and were both not very good movies). But now there’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, opening nationwide over ten years after the fact, that begs the question “How much time has to pass before it’s okay to publicly hate a movie about 9/11…?”
The movie in question centers around Tom Hanks, who works inside the World Trade Center and perishes that day with nearly 3,000 others, and the wife (Sandra Bullock) and son (newcomer Thomas Horn) who are left to grieve. While the mother-and-son relationship looks to be stilted at best, father-and-son seem to have an intellectual bond, as both are inquisitive about their surroundings, and keep each other on their toes with riddles and scavenger-hunt games that they presumably keep mom out of. Which in turn makes dad’s death that much more traumatic, since the mother seems to be seen as a secondary member of the household, and since the tragedy itself was so senseless and inconceivable. But just as his world is crumbling all around him, the young man finds one more quest left by his father, almost from beyond-the-grave, wherein the key to unlocking it seems impossible to find, yet the answer that lies forever on the horizon will put the boy at peace with dad’s death, and be the last bit of fatherly wisdom that will prepare the boy for his new life as a man……
Give me a break!
The trailer starts off with father and son playing “reconnaissance” games with one another and practicing karate in the living room, which is believable enough; who doesn’t think Tom Hanks would be the best dad in the world? But then he dies, and son Thomas Horn goes on this massive quest, presumably throughout all five burrows of New York City, to find the one lock that fits the one key left to him by dear-old dad, which holds a life-changing revelation that provides all the answers he’ll need, as a pre-teen who has to begin to live the rest of his life without a father. That may sound cynical, but maybe it’s the fact that they set the whole thing to the tune of Bono and U2 that makes me groan so incredibly loud.
My biggest contention lies not with the story, which I imagine was a wonderful novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, but in the execution, which seems to come off as overwrought. In what world does a 10-year-old travel around the biggest city in the world, meeting a kaleidoscope of strange people, of all ages, and of all colors? There was a woman in real life who let her 9-year-old ride the subway by himself, and the whole country tried to crucify her. And then there’s that mystery of a key that could open up the secrets of the universe, or just as easily a sock drawer. I mean, how many of us still have keys to old apartments that for one reason or another we still have lying around? Plus, that kid just kind of annoys me. I mean, does every syllable need to be pronounced in every sentence? I know there’s hyper-intellectual kids out there (this one himself was found by producers after appearing on an episode of Kids Week Jeopardy!), but there’s a fine line between being precocious, and being obnoxious. Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and Uncle Buck was a lovable scamp; that kid from Jerry McGuire was a delight! Jake Lloyd as a young Anakin Skywalker in Phantom Menace….? Obnoxious.
So, will it suck?
Yes. When I go to a movie that is going to make me cry, I don’t want to be able to physically see the producers just off screen squeezing the tears out of a scene. I want a natural arc to get me to be surprised that I’m so emotionally invested in a movie that I’m literally blubbering like a baby. This film seems like it’s forced, and yes, a lot of it stems from that U2 song in the trailer. You could play “Where the Streets Have No Name” while I’m running to the mailbox and you’d think that I just got a letter from a long-lost love, or that I just won a Nobel Prize for curing cancer, when in actuality it was just a bunch of porno mags. Don’t squeeze me. And yes, you may call me out for my cynical take on what is supposed to be a deeply moving movie about a young boy who loses his father on the worst day in Homeland Security, but hasn’t 9/11 made us all a bit more cynical? At least I’m honest about it.