The curse of many a literary adaptation is the difficulty in translating an interior voice into exterior action. Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close consists entirely of such monologues: the easily distracted, endlessly inventive ruminations of a 9-year-old boy whose father was killed on 9/11, and the individual, but equally fanciful, remembrances of his grandparents.
The book was occasionally effective but ultimately drowned by its torrent of arch conceits; like young Oskar Schell, the author couldn't turn off his penchant for whimsical invention. Placed into the mouth of a living, breathing human, however, Oskar's unstanched imaginings become hectoring, not helped by Thomas Horn's overly precious, anxious performance, which seems to build to an irritating fever pitch in each scene.
The streamlined story of the film focuses on young Oskar's quest to discover the meaning of a key he finds hidden in his father's closet. In flashback, the elder Schell (Tom Hanks) is an idealized pamperer, never too busy to invent a story or construct a scavenger hunt for his son. Perhaps this accounts for Oskar's severe sense of entitlement, as he refuses to allow for the emotions of others, repeatedly insisting that his grief be the focus of the rest of the world.
The envelope holding the key reads only "Black," so the boy sets out to question everyone in New York with that name. No film could contain all the novel's mannered flights, but director Stephen Daldry strikes an entirely different tone altogether. He essentially grabs the story like a dishrag and wrings out every ounce of pathos. The legacy of 9/11 is strip-mined for sentiment, every image that has stuck in the collective memory over the past decade-plus employed in a tear-jerking onslaught.