The new film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close got a limited early release on Christmas Day for good reason. The film has a wide release planned for January 20, 2012, but got a limited release on Dec. 25 for award qualifications among 2011 films.
Good idea, since the performance turned in by Thomas Horn, who plans 10-year-old Oskar Schell is an Oscar-worthy effort. Schell, who was chosen for the role despite no previous acting experience other than winning $30,000 at the age of 12 on the Jeopardy! Kids Week program, reminds us that children so often have the same difficulty navigating themselves and the troubled world around them that we all do.
Seeing the film in New York at a theater where the World Trade Center site is in site just around the corner undoubtedly brought some edge to the film. The story of a mother and child who lose their husband and father in the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks could enlist emotion on the subject matter alone, particularly with that audience.
When Oskar wonders if an image he found on the Internet of a man jumping from a burning World Trade Center tower just before it fell is his father the audience gasped with similar thoughts -- it could have been a parent, a friend, a co-worker, or an acquaintance. And, it probably wise, metophorically speaking, at least.
But the performance delivered by Horn goes well beyond nostalgic emotion. His character, Oskar Schell, is a complicated sort who has adult-like conflictions trapped in a child's body. Yet it is the child trying to make sense of the shattered world around him -- why did his father have to die on 9/11?
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The movie is a puzzle, led by Schell's father, played by Tom Hanks. Schell's journey through the puzzle, trying to put the pieces together, can be slow, if not frustrating at times. That, however, is the beauty in the film, delivered by director Stephen Daldry. Life flies by us in a blink, but the problems we try to solve move painstakingly and with great frustration.
The film does seem to fight the very emotion is seems on display to evoke at times, but that's the hidden gem involved. The story sometimes feels confused, because that's the very nature of tragedy and the endeavor to find comfort and make sense of it all. We often strike at those we love, and turn to the strangest places in hopes of easing the pain.
In the end, Schell makes quite a leap from the game show set to the big screen. The flim may be his first, but it won't be his last.