Few effects of the 9/11 attacks proved to be as poignant and heartrending as the loss of parents to so many young children. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close focuses on a boy's loss of his father at the World Trade Center and his quest to find the lock that fits a mysterious key his father left behind. Despite an engaging premise, the film borders on the pedantic, but patient viewers will likely reap the benefits of their two-hour investment.
Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close offers up an effective Tom Hanks and a moving Sandra Bullock in limited roles. The story begins with 9-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) adoring his father Thomas (Hanks), who encourages the development of Oskar's brilliantly inquisitive mind and pushes him to overcome his severe social deficiencies.
When his father dies, Oskar retreats into an emotional cocoon, virtually becoming a stranger to his own mother (Bullock), until one day when he discovers a key in a blue vase in his father's closet. The key is in a small envelope with the name Brown on it, and Oskar determines his father would have wanted him to find the lock that fits the key, so he systematically travels to the homes of all 472 New Yorkers with the last name "Brown."
Oskar's quest should be endearing, but his social insensitivity, bordering on rudeness, makes him more annoying than not, and his obsession with numbers (exactly a 19-minute lunch break on quest days) moves from charmingly quirky to exasperating. The inaccessibility of Oskar's character also hampers the film early on, but strong adult characters surrounding and encountering him lead Oskar and the story into emotionally satisfying and cathartic territory.
Particularly helpful in this regard is the friendship Oskar develops with his grandmother's enigmatic renter (Max van Sydow), an old man who never says a word and communicates with a small paper notebook. Van Sydow's performance is tremendously affecting, and his decision to accompany Oskar on his quest adds a needed layer of emotional resonance to the narrative.