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'Close,' but maybe no Oscar?

Published February 17. 2012 05:01PM

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is a profound film of incredible power, fine performances and superb cinema craft.

The film, a picture Oscar and supporting actor Oscar (Max von Sydow) nominee, has been somewhat overlooked on the road to the Academy Awards. "ELIC" was Oscar-worthy in additional categories.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" comes to terms with 9/11 as perhaps has no other theatrical feature, among them, "United 93" (2006),"World Trade Center" (2006), "Reign Over Me" (2007) and "Dear John" (2010).

The awkwardly titled "ELIC" is told from the point of view of Oskar (Thomas Horn, an Oscar-nominee worthy performance in a theatrical debut for the 2010 "Jeopardy" TV show contestant), a gifted, obsessive, emotionally-cauterized nine-year-old who appears to have Asberger's Syndrome on the Autism Spectrum.

Oskar lost his father, Thomas Schell (excellent Tom Hanks), a jewelry store owner, who was in one of the World Trade Center towers when a plane crashed into it the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Oskar finds a key in a small brown envelope with the last name "Black" on it among his deceased father's belongings and sets out on a quest to discover who owns the key and what it might open.

Oskar enlists the aid of an elderly man (von Sydow), who rents a room from his grandmother and who either chooses to or cannot speak. Von Sydow's Keatonesque countenance is an homage to silent movies within the larger "ELIC" movie.

Excellent in sporting roles are Sandra Bullock as Oskar's mother, Zoe Caldwell as Oskar's grandmother, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright as one of the Blacks on Oskar's search list and John Goodman as an apartment building doorman.

Director Stephen Daldry ("The Reader," "The Hours," "Billy Elliot"), working from a screenplay by Eric Roth ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Munich," "The Horse Whisperer," "Forrest Gump"), based on a brilliantly evocative 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, keeps "ELIC" from veering into melodrama by carefully intercutting Oskar's quest with flashback scenes of he and his father.

Father and son bonding is depicted in wonderfully-intelligent and unusually ways ("reconnaissance expeditions," Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" as a bedtime story).

"ELIC" is augmented by Horn's compelling voiceover, a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat, superb cinematography by Chris Menges, sensitive special effects that treat the 9/11 tragedy with dignity and respect, and careful costuming by the Lehigh Valley's Ann Roth.

"ELIC" will be regarded as a classic. Do yourself a favor, as well as 9/11 victims and their family and friends, and see this film.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language; Genre: Drama; Run time: Two hours, nine minutes; Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures

Box Office, Feb. 10: "The Vow," opened at No. 1 for the Valentine's Day weekend with $41.7 million, with "Safe House" close behind, opening at No. 2, with $39.3 million; and "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," opening at No. 3, with "$27.5 million; and the 3-D re-release of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," opening at No. 4, with $23 million; dropping "Chronicle" to No. 5, $12.3 million, $40.1 million, two weeks;

6. "The Woman in Black," $10.3 million, $35.4 million, two weeks; 7. "The Grey," $5 million, $42.8 million, three weeks; 8. "Big Miracle," $3.9 million; $13.2 million, two weeks; 9."The Descendants," $3.5 million, $70.7 million, 13 weeks; 10. "Underworld; Awakening," $2.5 million, $58.9 million, four weeks; 15. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," $1.5 million, $29.4 million, eight weeks;

Unreel, Feb. 17:

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," PG-13: Nicolas Cage back as Johnny Blaze is called up to beat the devil (and perhaps rev up his own movie career) in the action-fantasy-thriller.

"The Secret World of Arrietty," G: An animated fantasy-adventure film about the four-inch-tall Clock family, with voices by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett.

"This Means War," R: Reese Witherspoon is torn between two spies (Chris Pine, Tom Hardy) in the action-comedy-romance.

"Undefeated," A documentary about the underdog Manassas High School football team coached by Bill Courtney.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline. com. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline. com and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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