The crux of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close appears to be a key. Oskar (Thomas Horn) wears it throughout the film, eager to find the person it belongs too, likely someone named Black. The key, as we’re led to believe, belonged to Oskar’s father whom died during the 9/11 attacks.
In the end, the key is more a metaphor, although for what cannot be said here. Oskar’s eagerness, energy, and his life has little closure. Instead of hinging on a character, Loud hinges on a key that doesn’t unlock anything physical.
Does Oskar grow? Certainly. His quirks, mannerisms, and focus are socially straining. That piece of unidentified metal hanging from his neck forces encounters, sending him through a character arc that reaches for an Academy Award but ends up being little more than bait. That’s nothing against Horn who here, in his first feature, is outstanding. It’s the narrative structure, avoiding the notation of 9/11. Instead, it’s “The Worst Day.” The ultimate goal is to push the audience into feeling something through events they can relate to, not necessarily provide demanding material.
Loud is beautifully framed and tinted with raw emotion that doesn’t have enough energy to saturate the entire piece. Breakdowns are fierce, Oskar left with only his distant mother who can’t break through her own suffering. When those feelings surface, it’s remarkable cinema. Those moments are few.
This is an indirect piece, bouncing within the timeline from a week or so before/after 9/11 and a year down the line. It flashes back as the narrative demands it to, those moments where the present day feels lean or downright predictable. Oskar’s sudden and inadvertent meeting with a man known only as “The Renter” (Max Von Sydow) hardly warrants an air of mystery. Sydow’s character is sort of like the key, only with a point. However, like the key, Sydow’s character is equally mishandled.
Buggy at times with an addition of noise to darker areas of the image, Loud is an otherwise dominating digital presentation. The clarity, brought forth from the lens of the Arri Alexa, captures a window-esque view into Oskar’s world, free of almost all potential imperfections. Some shaky flicker visible during an opening funeral sequence (on the cars) puts this AVC encode in a bad light before a rapid recovery effort springs it into action.
There’s a chill running through the piece, the color timing such that white veers off into teal with frequency. Eyes, paper, clothes, light sources, etc. all take on a brightly blueish hue, sapping some of the contrasting power generated from the intense black levels. Save for a nighttime interior (or two), blacks keep a steady visual pace with respect for shadow detail.
With most of the close-ups belonging to a child, it’s quite impressive to see a streak of facial detail stand out as a highlight of the photography. Horn’s close-ups bring out the minutiae, from small hairs to what appear to be small scars on the side of his nose. The supporting cast is equally sharp and resolved, as are some pans of New York.
It’s not simply facial detail, but an overall texture. Late, Sandra Bullock scans some papers, the zoom leading to the material producing exquisite definition that brings out the tiniest of texture. Clothing is wonderful, including the multiple layers worn by Horn. A dazzling array of flowers during the opening funeral is spectacular visually. Few moments fail to nail their mark.
An unexpected surprise, Loud’s booming DTS-HD track places a small child in New York, pushing up the city sounds as he traverses the streets to accentuate his place. An elevated train at 24:23 sounds enormous, generating sufficient LFE to sell the size, the stereo panning to complete the motion. The same goes for a fleet of trucks around ten minutes later.
Subtle elements work too, including seagulls near a docks, screeching in all channels. Every sound has a place here, not merely a mix that shoves everything into the fronts and calls it there. It uses sound to bring the viewer into Oskar’s head, or down to his level. That effect adds to his character, whether it’s the focal point (and it can be) or not. Layered dialogue keeps a presence in the center without becoming too overwhelmed by the multitude of elements.
Most of the bonuses here are worth your time, whether interest in the finished product is there to begin with. An honest making of avoids many of the superficial mistakes made by a dearth of these featurettes. Finding Oskar details how Horn was discovered (on Jeopardy!) and brought onto the film. Max Von Sydow: Dialogues with The Renter is 44-minutes, more than doubling the second longest piece here, following the veteran actor through the process of creating the character.
Still, the best thing here is Ten Years Later, the story of how a simple photo of an actual 9/11 victim touched so many people during its brief appearance on screen. These 11-minutes will touch you and be remembered for some time. The stories are incredible.