by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Tom Horn in Scene from "Extremelly Loud" (c) Warner Bros
Tom Horn in Scene from "Extremelly Loud" (c) Warner Bros

Whispering decisively a middle-age woman told her friend, “I’ve have to write a letter,” as the end credits rolled for “Extremely Loud Incredibly Close,” then, corrected herself, “no, I’ll call.” One could infer that a long overdue ‘I love you’ will be voiced over the phone line soon. Hopefully , more than one of those calls will be made and forgiveness will mend long estranged relationships from coast to coast.

Let we go out on a slippery gridiron, how long did it take until nearly all the stateholders consented to a major motion picture regarding the tragic Marshall University air tragedy that occurred in 1970? More than 35-years-later, the production had an impact on many still grieving members of the Marshall community and ‘young’ Thundering Herd: It sewed the foundation for not forgetting, but finally, healing, accepting the disaster, mending goal posts, expressing emotion, and the community took a giant step forward in a massive group hug.

“Extremely Loud” concerns the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It’s focus shines on a grieving nine-year-old  boy (Oskar) played by Tom Horn and his distraught mom (Linda), played by Sandra Bullock. Regrets abound, specifically  the boy who was  released early from school remains haunted by messages left  on the answering machine. He does not want to let go of his father (played by Tom Hanks) memory, so, a broken vase revealing an unknown key to an unknown lock becomes the amateur detective’s search in honor of his dad.

Setting him on a reconnaissance mission around NYC looking for a needle in a haystack, the project rekindles memories of his father. He’s expecting a “reward” and closure at rainbow’s end by opening that door.

Questions of grief,  why me Lord, and terrorism surface.  This tyke  tells mom not to bury him in the ground take his body to a mausoleum. His decision comes after an eerie description of having the dead in a huge ‘skyscraper’ underground where survivors can go visit them.

Tom Horn and Tom Hanks
Tom Horn and Tom Hanks

Before complaining or demeaning a film about the New York City attacks, you must watch. Adapted by Eric (“Forrest Gump”) Roth, It’s not a news recap, neither is it a dramatized ‘disaster’ genre. No, the towers have already crumbled. This is about two family members struggling to move beyond the “worst day” and reconnect with life. They represent the ‘universe’ of those coping with trauma and stumbling, struggling, and miraculously forging ways to ‘move on.’

“We Are Marshall” and “Extremely Loud” both had early cries of protest about making a relatively fictional movie about an actual tragedy. Judging from the internet forum responses, many viewers have complained about weaving fictional characters around the Towers, just as some Herd supporters worried that McG and crew would not treat the air tragedy source material respectfully. McG kept his promise, even prevailing when a would be money saving counterpart wanted to skip the fountain finale. The director stood empathetically for his vision; he won the creative battle and the scene became symbolic of the ‘honoring the past’ and ‘moving forward.’

Although only ten years have passed since the terrorist attacks, one survivor had the courage and vision to counter the criticism: “Not everything about 9/11 has to be wholly sacred. People died in it and other people were effected. That's what the book is about. I actually had loved ones lost on 9/11 and I agree that it is time to move on. There is no point in negatively dwelling upon it, it's not like they are making fun of it in any way.”

McG encountered a similar argument when adding fictional ‘composite’ characters as representative of large groups. However, no drama could be made that accurately encompasses ALL that happened in a two hour time frame. The ‘composites’ allowed creative license while preserving privacy from intimate details. The same broad concept applies to “Extremely.”

Recalling interviews with “We Are Marshall” filmmakers (and others), the greatest word from that generation was a severe invasion of their sense of security due to the attack on the homeland. These ‘fears’ led to the ease --- agree or disagree--- of George Bush’s policies (Patriot Act, Homeland Security) that curtailed freedoms in exchange for protection. It also led to ten years of war in the Middle East.

Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock

For that reason, the intimacy of the 9/11 production easily broadens from the one family losing their husband and father when the planes crashed into the towers to a sense of similar occurrences in the homes of each of the 3,000 victims. Beyond the immediate causalities, each family who lost a loved one during the wars suffered in an equal way. Those returning veterans --- many with physical or emotional scars --- suffer, also.

Returning to the film’s scenario, prior to his father’s death, Oskar  had a genius intellectual capacity yet endured self-confidence and  marauding  fear challenges, such as swings, bridges and interacting with people. After the ‘worst day,’ his list includes elevators, subways, buses, high rise buildings, loud noise, and onward to infinity.

Tom Horn, now 14, had only acted in a grade school play and appeared on “Jeopardy,” yet , he delivers an incredible performance yanking us into his head and body and walking along the lonely boroughs of New York on a quest that keeps him functioning. Some call him selfish and spoiled; I call him crushed, grieving, traumatized  and punishing himself. Bravo that he finds others practicing  unconditional love along his journey.

Max Von Sydow’s character  accompanies Oskar  on his mission. Labeled a ‘tenant’ (when actually a relative) , Von Sydow’s performance as a mute victim of early life tragedies, saunters from grouchy dragging to expert teacher. Once understanding the boy’s ‘journey,’ Von Sydow’s written phrases motivates   his grandson to remain resolute and continue confronting his  fears.

Ms. Bullock must epitomize  surface strength and visual emotional solidarity which her private times  betray. Evan, as the distance increases between mom and her son, she must be a ‘rock’ or face the loss of a second casualty from the ‘worst day.’

Although Roth and director Stephen (“The Reader,” “The Hours”) Daldry remove the slight ambiguity of the original novel, the film retains the precise symbolism for applying the message to all hurting people in the world. Further, it resoundingly implores the openness and importance of a  three word phrase (“I love you”)  that  been often only been implied or whispered when routinely parting with a loved one.

Oscar may overlook , perhaps, due to the still brittle subject matter. No matter. Screenwriter Roth ( “Mr. Jones,” “Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) has repeated his gift for warming empathy towards those with imperfections (in the foregoing a man suffering bi-polar disorder and a dwarf) that seemingly do not deserve redemption.