Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud tells the story of Oskar who loses his father in the 9/11 attacks. Still reeling from the unexpected passing, he finds a key his father left behind. Oskar doesn’t know what the key could open, but the possibilities are endless and he sets off on an expedition to find the answer. The film’s shortcomings are admittedly not completely Horn’s fault. Even in the book, Foer created an unrelatable, uncute child to narrate the story. But even he had the wisdom to break up Oskar’s voice with two other narrators (his grandparents). When Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth adapted the story to the screen, however, gone were the other voices and other narratives. This was to be a purely 9/11 film, a purely Oskar Schell film — a mistake on a couple of levels.
Like most 9/11 films, Extremely Loud, fall into a hokey, overly-sentimental trap of togetherness and pain, a concoction made from the depths of a Lifetime movie. It’s not that the events of September 11th are too soon to feature on the silver screens; it’s that so few films capture the essence and the mood of a city that went through so much. Instead, these films appear as neatly-wrapped packaged enclosures that tell us what we did feel and how we should feel, plucking out our tears and our emotions through fabricated and cluttered voicemails amid the rubble. We as New Yorkers and as Americans, do not mind and often invite a cathartic experience, but we just cannot accept a manipulating one.
Maybe it all could have worked if Thomas Horn pulled off a performance of a lifetime in his first role. All he needed to do was surpass the irritating shortcomings of the original character, outplay the manipulative and tiring screenplay, and encapsulate the mood of post-9/11 New York on his back. Sounds like an impossible task? Undoubtedly so. Then why make him the center of your film? That fault falls on the shoulders of the adults who made Extremely Loud.