This new non-chronological fairy-tale-ish drama from Stephen Daldry "The Reader") confronts the haunting memories of September 11 in a putative, comforting, cathartic way, but still comes off too much as maudlin and fabricated that may leave more viewers cheated than moved.
That's not really because of his assembling of talent which features Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and newcomer 13-year-old Thomas Horn (cast from his Jeopardy! kids appearance) and a beatific, subliminal production which makes gives the unfamiliar a notable tour of the Big Apple.
The filmmakers have trouble compensating for the limitations (or obstacles) from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel (which he adapts) with stellar scribe Eric Roth which pits Horn's Oskar Schell (who might be afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome) at the center of the action and provides much narration, especially in the early going. It figures in the associations of the boy in his possible form of autism (compare with an early adult in the less commercial Adam).
Maybe Oskar's social reticence and compulsions stem back to his father Thomas (Hanks at her nurturing dad best, an interesting contrast to the one from Sleepless in Seattle) who fills his head with mystery and cryptic games to provide him more of a realistic continuity. It includes unique jaunts around a big metropolis, including its drifting "sixth borough." Some may recall the storyline of a visually vibrant Hugo which came across less as an exercise with a plot that is touched by a father/son bond.
When tragedy strikes as the World Trade Center towers are hit, Oskar is more lost than ever in his domestic life as his relationship with his grieving mother Linda (a seemingly unfeeling Bullock) has never been good.
The tale finds some momentum with Oscar's discovery of "Black" on a key among his fallen dad's things as he'll have a travelogue of a trek often with a quiet lodger (possibly Thomas's father) done with sagely convincing visages by Max von Sydow in going after the lock to fit the key.
Daldry maintains the impact of the horrors throughout the flash-backing and Chris Menges' lensing subliminally augments the connections and pursuit consuming Oskar. How enjoyable Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close is may fall on Horn (who off-screen can speak two other languages including Croatian) who has good scenes not only with von Sydow, but Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, who, along with John Goodman, have telling smaller roles.
Yet, this literary, ultimately life-affirming, redemptive search has a heartfelt pull (especially by way of Linda) during Oskar's time out and about New York. Daldry doesn't make the same kind of compelling reconciliation through (generational) loss (and abandonment) that he did in a more personal, intimate way that he did in Billy Eliott. It's not that Horn can't show his precocious skill among the accomplished actors, but his troubled character may be too strident for his own good in what is incredibly not for a movie audience looking for imagination from a mourning Manhattan family.