Friday, January 20, 2012
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Screenplay by: Eric Roth
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman
Running Time: 2 hr. 9 min.
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2011 limited/ January 20, 2012 wide
This adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s controversial 2005 novel follows 11 year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) as he attempts to solve a mystery that he believes his father has set for him. The socially awkward boy (with possible Asperger’s syndrome) is unable to understand the reasons why he lost his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack one year earlier and needs tangible answers in order to cope. Flashbacks show Thomas as a wonderful father who constantly motivates his son by creating “reconnaissance expeditions” for him, which serve to sharpen the boy’s intelligence and help him to push past the self imposed boundaries that restrict his life. Now, receiving no emotional support from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock), Oskar feels the lack of a parental bond and desperately searches for a way to stay connected with the only person in the world who he felt really understood him. When he searches through his father’s belongings and discovers a key within an envelope labeled “Black”, Oskar believes it to be part of a last game that his father had set up for him. He begins a journey that takes him through the five boroughs of New York City, looking for everyone in the phonebook with the last name “Black”, and ends up meeting more people than can actually be shown. Among the more significant individuals he encounters on his quest are a divorcing couple played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, who help Oskar despite their own personal issues, and a man known simply to Oskar as “The Renter” (Max von Sydow). This man, who moved in with Oskar’s grandmother a short time after Thomas’ passing, aids in Oskar’s search and, although he cannot speak, seems to communicate with the child better than anyone else. As time goes on, the puzzle seems less and less likely to be solved, but Oskar does not give up. This is due, in part, to his father’s last message of “notstop looking”, but also because of the child’s naïve hope that if he can find the corresponding lock, the mystery that is revealed will somehow give meaning to this senseless tragedy.
Although Horn delivered a decent performance, (especially when considering the fact that he was not a professional actor and was expected to carry almost the entire weight of the film), he came off as more arrogant than eccentric.
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock played minor roles, therefore not too much can be said about their performances. However, Max von Sydow’s character was a welcome addition that added warmth and authenticity to the film.
There were many unbelievable and conflicting aspects to the story. For instance, the boy clearly states that he has trouble talking to people, but seems to have no problem going on and on to perfect strangers, regarding everything from useless facts to his own personal drama. (I understand that he could more easily open up to outsiders than to his own mother, but it is still contradictory.) The boy also states that he is easily disturbed by loud noises, fast moving objects, and anything dangerous (such as public transportation and even swings), but constantly puts himself in unnecessarily risky situations, such as standing in the middle of a busy city street as cars go whizzing by. Yes, Oskar is trying to push himself beyond his worst fears in order to keep his father “alive”, but I don’t believe that a person with (possible) Asperger’s can just get over it because someone writes him a note, any more than I believe that a good mother would allow her eleven year old child to run around New York City all alone, especially after just losing her husband to such an unexpected tragedy. These implausible details pull the audience out of the story in order to question the validity of such unlikely events.
Oskar’s voiceovers of endless dialogue seemed to be a lazy way for the storytellers to explain his inner workings and eccentricities. The boy’s long, drawn out explanations may have worked in the book, but they do not translate onto film.
Finally, the story did not need to be based on the 9/11 attacks at all, but would have worked with any tragedy that took the life of Oscar’s father. If you are going to use such well known events, then at least have the story merge with that incident rather than simply tapping into the memories and emotions that people have already assigned to it. The filmmakers may have been trying to connect the family’s personal tragedy with the idea that all people have experienced loss in their lives, (which we understand from all of Oskar’s visits), however, they fail to successfully link all of this to 9/11.
This formulaic drama may superficially appear to be an Oscar worthy film and will most likely be nominated for one. However, once you move past its captivating external attributes (such as the beautiful music and cinematography), you realize that, although the movie seems to possess the qualifications of an award winning film, the completed work falls incredibly short of the masterpiece that it is being touted as.