You don’t pull off a feat like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close without a nearly miraculous set of performances. Hanks is, of course, Hanks, and that’s plenty. As Oskar’s mom, Sandra Bullock is seen through the boy’s eyes as endlessly sullen and self-absorbed following the loss of her husband. Only toward the end do the scales fall from our eyes and we see her character’s astonishing pluck, her quiet gift for nurturing her son — and Bullock again proves to be a most affecting screen actress. Best of all is Max von Sydow as a mysterious, mute old man who accompanies Oskar on his journey of discovery. Haunted, impetuous and mischievous, he bears many childlike qualities missing in Oskar, and in time some of them do indeed rub off on the boy.
As Oskar, Thomas Horn joins that long list of young actors you can’t help but wonder what will become of them. This is his first movie role, and he seems utterly comfortable in a character’s skin. He’s so wonderfully unaffected, so breathlessly vulnerable, you want to swath him in bubble wrap before Hollywood’s childhood-killing machine gets hold of him.
It took a second look at this film to remember that many of the values we cherish were seeded somewhere in childhood, when the world was extremely big and incredibly scary.