The trailer for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” oozes with totally unchecked sentimentality, like a cute puppy rushing around at top speed giving wet kisses.
Could there be a more obvious award-monger this season? The director is Stephen Daldry, a man with three Best Director Oscar nominations, and the screenwriter is Eric Roth, an Oscar winner and four-time nominee whose specialty is long, goopy movies such as “Forrest Gump” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
But the most wonderful thing about movies is that anything can happen, and so it’s a huge, warm surprise that “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is genuinely touching.
Protagonist Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a timid 9-year-old living in New York City in the autumn of 2001. (Though the 9/11 attacks are employed as a major part of the story, they are presented as a personal, rather than national, tragedy.)
Oskar’s unbelievably amazing dad (Tom Hanks) encourages the boy’s imagination and intelligence, but after the World Trade Center falls, Oskar and his mom (Sandra Bullock) are left on their own.
Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet, and sets out to find the lock it fits. His only clue is the last name “Black,” of which there are hundreds in the five boroughs.
On his quest, he meets many strange and sweet locals, and finds himself becoming closely connected to the city.
Things get really good when he enlists the aid of a mysterious, meaty old man (Max von Sydow) who does not speak; he has “yes” and “no” stamped on his right and left hands, and otherwise scribbles notes on a pad; von Sydow does remarkable things with his eyes and hands, and also manages to rein in some of the movie’s sentimentality.
Horn gets the bulk of the movie’s dialogue — adapted from the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything Is Illuminated”) — and the fine young actor balances its playfulness with a sense of humanity.
While on paper the movie seems like a collection of ingredients assembled to win hearts and awards, it boasts undeniably powerful moments — Oskar describing and playing his father’s final answering machine messages, or the lonely, quiet, late-night scene in which he finally does meet the owner of the key — that are gentle and confident.
Starring Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright
Written by Eric Roth
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Running time 2 hours