DVD Release Date: March 27, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: January 20, 2012 (wide)
Rating: PG-13 (emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 129 min.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Zoe Caldwell, Max von Sydow, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright

Depending on your level of cynicism with movies that center around truly heartbreaking tragedies like 9/11, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated), will either have you reaching for a tissue or sighing from sheer emotional exhaustion.

Or if you fall smack dab in the middle of skepticism’s pendulum, well, you’ll likely feel a bit of both.

Anchored by the sensational performance of newcomer Thomas Horn, who was discovered at a kids’ Jeopardy tournament of all things, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the story of how an 11-year-old boy copes with what he’s dubbed “The Worst Day,” the day when his hero, his best friend, his fellow adventurer and lover of oxymorons, his father, died when the World Trade Center came crumbling down.

And considering how utterly devoted his dad, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks, Larry Crowne) was to Oskar (several flashbacks effectively showcase their engaging father/son dynamic), it’s not surprising that the sensitive, self-proclaimed pacifist, Francophile and amateur inventor isn’t having the easiest time getting over his loss. Worse yet, he and his mom, Linda (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side) aren’t exactly close. In fact, Oskar readily admits that he wishes it was her in the tower, instead of his dad, a reality she’s forced to live with as she mourns herself.

Just as Oskar’s search for answers seems to be leading nowhere, however, he has a “breakthrough” one afternoon when he looks in his dad’s closet for the first time since he passed away. Discovering a mysterious key hidden inside a blue vase he’s never seen before, Oskar becomes increasingly curious about what it opens.  If anything, maybe it’s a clue that was meant to unlock an important truth about his father.

Since the key was nestled inside an envelope with “Black” scrawled on the front, Oskar immediately decides that “Black” is definitely a name. So with the fervor of a pirate in search of buried treasure, Oskar throws himself completely into finding everyone in the surrounding area with the last name “Black” so he can solve the mystery. While flipping through the phone book, he eventually comes up with 472 people with that last name, and instead of feeling defeated by the weight of the task, he’s actually more empowered than ever.

After devising an elaborate plan that’ll allow him to meet each and every Black in three years if that’s what it takes, Oskar tells the first of many, many lies and sets out on foot since he refuses to use public transportation. For the record, eschewing the subway is only one of his many peculiarities. To provide a sense of calm considering Oskar gets nervous when confronted with anything from bridges to germs to planes that fly too low, he brings along a tambourine. 

Interestingly enough, for all his quirks, Oskar isn’t afraid of what could’ve been the scariest experience of all, namely being all of 11 years old and traveling by yourself in the biggest city in the United States, knocking on the doors of complete strangers in all five boroughs and beyond and inquiring about the origins of a random key.