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March 12, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

It’s easy to underestimate the impact of September 11 on the American filmmaker. We can point to United 93 and World Trade Center and (spoiler alert) Remember Me and say, “this is how American cinema deals with 9/11” and leave it at that, but that would be a ridiculously reductive way of analysing the imprint that day left on America’s cinematic discourse.

For example, the prevalence of found-footage cinema can be traced back to the importance of the footage sourced from bystanders with cellphones and video cameras on that day (Cloverfield even directly references 9/11 in its images of Manhattan under siege); similarly, many post-9/11 action films act out fantasies of American triumphalism against ‘terrorists’ or forces analogous to terrorists in ‘revenge’ for their threats to American security, be that in Iron Man or Transformers or The Kingdom. The shadow of the World Trade Center lingers so subtly over so much of modern American cinema that it’s no surprise most people don’t notice it at all.

You will, however, notice that shadow over Stephen Daldry’s latest, an adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close follows a young, probably-autistic boy (in one scene, the boy explains that he was tested for Aspergers but the diagnosis was ‘inconclusive’, the film gracelessly avoiding any obligation to be sensitive about child autism from there on) as he runs around New York, investigating a key he found in the closet of his father, who died in the WTC on that day. The boy is accompanied by an old man whose past traumas have left him unwilling to speak, the film sneakily alluding to the Holocaust and giving the viewer two horrible tragedies for the price of one. Meanwhile, his mother sits at home, wringing her hands over her fractured relationship with the boy.

As suggested by its title, Extremely Loud is a blunt and ostentatious evocation of America’s Tragedy; ‘subtlety’ might as well be a foreign language here. Every emotion is heightened, every music cue is a soaring crescendo, every close-up is extreme, every montage is slick and rapid, every reference to 9/11 is signposted and exploited for maximum emotional impact. The film even appropriates the sparse, tragic image of the Falling Man and ‘rewinds’ it, showing him falling up into the building and, in the process, capturing the American public’s disbelief at the attack in the crassest way possible. There’s some heart to be found in the wounded performances of Max von Sydow, Jeffrey Wright and Viola Davis, but it’s a heart that’s smothered by the film’s grating lead (young game-show victor Thomas Horn) and by its aggressively manipulative presentation.

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