Hey, if this Jeopardy contestant can do a film why can’t any other one? Anybody have Ken Jennings’ number?
This film centers on Oskar (Thomas Horn), a precocious 11-year old boy whose father (Tom Hanks) died in the 9/11 attacks. He finds a mysterious key that belonged to him and decides to look for the lock that fits the key, convinced that his father left a message for him somewhere in the city.
Way back when, I remember seeing the trailer for this flick and actually thinking it could have been a big Oscar contender. Now I think that was probably because of that awesome U2 song they put in it. No you know what, it definitely was.
Director Stephen Daldry makes his fourth film in only eleven years and tries his hardest here. He has this little style of his throughout the whole film that constantly speeds up the camera and has us moving around the plot as if we were inside the mind of our young protagonist. It was pretty cool for Daldry to actually take this approach and give this idea a shot but it just couldn’t do much to get our minds pass the suckiness of the story itself.
The problem with this story is that too much of it doesn’t feel genuine at all. The story starts off a bit promising with some believability but then once Oskar starts his own little quest, everything just really feels thin. Eric Roth made the screenplay and he uses a lot of the same tricks he used with other scripts like ‘Forrest Gump’ or ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ but it can only go so far when you have a plot that tries hard to be involving and emotional. There are also plenty of other times where the film seems to throw these huge vocabulary words at us without any real meaning or need and even though it may look good on paper, when it’s being put to a film and only focused on for about a couple of seconds, it doesn’t quite work as well.
The main reason why this film’s story didn’t feel real or involve me in anyway was because of that kid that you see gracing his whole face on the poster up-top. Oskar is a neurotic 11 year-old who doesn’t fit in, has a phobia of just about everything outside of his room, and actually gets tested for Asperger’s which he actually says that results were inconclusive, but then again, I do have my doubts about that. The film is actually being marketed as Bullock and Hanks flick but this is all Thomas Horn as Oskar, and it’s definitely an annoying trip just about the whole way through. This kid is terribly annoying because it’s very obvious that he can’t act right from the start so basically everything that comes out of his mouth seems bratty, obnoxious, and always way too smart for his own age kind of kid. He is just right in front of our face the whole entire time and it’s very bothersome especially since this kid never feels like a real kid at heart so everything that he goes through for the whole 2 hours and 10 minutes, just feels implausible as if it was almost a sure fantasy.
I think more of the blame for this should be actually put on Daldry himself considering he was the one who cast this damn kid. There are a lot of scenes where this kid has to yell, scream, and basically rant on about what’s going through his mind and why which I know is supposed to make us feel his angst, sadness, confused state of mind but after awhile it’s a little too hard to watch. I know that it may be terribly mean for me to base this off of a kid, let alone a first-time performer, but he is just really going all out with these little sch-peels he has which it almost reminds me of the one that Edward Norton did in a far-superior post-9/11 flick, ’25th Hour’. The reason why I blame Daldry for this kid was because he never really seemed to help this kid through any of his scenes. He just sort of left him out there to dry and try his hardest to get any type of emotion out of the audience but instead it just takes away so much from the film overall. Daldry focused a little bit too much on his visuals and a lot less on the actual main character himself. Shame on you Mr. Daldry.
The rest of this star-studded cast are all pretty good but they are barely around. Sandra Bullock is quite good as Oskar’s mother who actually has this big scene towards the end where she lets it all out and it works very well mainly because Bullock is a very good actress. Tom Hanks plays Oskar’s father who is mainly shown through flash-backs and he plays up the likableness that always wins with any audience but he is barely ever shown and even when he is, he’s just goofing around with his son and not doing anything really spectacular. Max von Sydow is probably the best part of this flick with his mute character, and right when he actually shows up is when the flick itself starts to actually warm up. He doesn’t use that voice that everybody knows and loves him for but he uses his skill as an actor in a more subtle way that really made me feel more for him than it did for Oskar. Viola Davis also has her two scenes where she’s good but then again, it’s just about two scenes and that’s it really.
Where the main problem with this film stems from is the fact that the plot makes 9/11 its main catalyst for the story. I know that I can’t really blame the film for this, since its in the novel that its adapted from, but the way the film uses it to get some sort of emotion out of us seems terrible. Oskar’s father could have died in any other way and it wouldn’t have matter in the least bit but the film keeps constantly reminding us of this and after about the tenth time Oskar referred to 9/11 as “that bad day” I wanted to just kick his ass. It also gets worse once the film takes something like a last phone-conversation between two loved ones and makes it just seem like another plot element where in real life, that is something that really meant something. It’s hard to watch for these reasons because it feels a exploitative and I still think that it’s a little too soon for people to be making 9/11 films that try this hard.
Consensus: This is definitely a story worth being told and its cast has its moments where they shine, as well as the story itself, but Daldry’s direction feels too-stylized for this type of material, the main kid is terribly annoying, and the whole plot point about 9/11 feels exploitative and something that could have easily been replaced since it didn’t matter either way what this film used in place of it.