"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" could also be described as moderately boring - at least for the first 40 minutes.
Once Max von Sydow enters the tale, it picks up a bit, and by the end it's almost worthwhile.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is directed by Stephen Daldry and features Oskar Schell, left, Tom Hanks, above, and Sandra Bullock, right. The film was just nominated for an Oscar for best picture.
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, the new film from director Stephen Daldry ("The Hours," "The Reader") concerns Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old who lost his father in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
You wouldn't think a film about 9-11 could be boring, but "Loud & Close" takes forever to get rolling, especially as it eschews details about the disaster and instead keys in on Oskar, who is not very easy to sympathize with.
Indeed, the late-night interaction with his mother (Sandra Bullock) is a brutal and not-too-believable scene that makes you wonder if anyone here will ever find healing.
To that point, the film's only storyline is a mysterious key that belonged to Oskar's dad (Tom Hanks); the boy suspects that if he can figure out what it opens, he'll be able to make sense of what happened.
Then he meets his grandmother's mysterious boarder (von Sydow), who never speaks but agrees to join the search; this involves tracking down several hundred people named "Black" - which was written on the envelope containing the key.
Von Sydow has made over 100 movies, going back to Bergman's "Seventh Seal" and also including "The Exorcist," "Minority Report" and "Shutter Island"; but even though his character doesn't say a word here, I've never seen him better.
He conveys more without dialog than most actors do with it - and his gruff-but-tender friendship with Oskar provides much-needed emotional resonance for the audience to grab hold of.
Also impressive are Viola Davis ("The Help") and Jeffrey Wright ("Source Code") as a couple who get swept into the boy's quixotic quest.
Wright's late scene with Oskar is beautifully realized by both actors (former "Jeopardy"-winner Thomas Horn plays Oskar) - and in this moment the film edges toward the emotional closure that it seemed ready to deny its viewers.
Eventually, we see that Oskar's long search has both established and revealed a connectedness, a wide-ranging sense of compassion and unity, that seems to be one of catastrophe's few compensations.
Before going in, a fellow film fan told me that "Loud & Close" was "over-directed" - and it does somehow seem to be trying both too hard and not hard enough.
It's ponderous and slow, and many of the wannabe-weighty symbols feel artificial - put there for their own sake, and throbbing with intended significance, instead of emerging naturally from the storyline and its characters.
"Loud & Close" is not a bad film, but it's not a very good one either. Along with "World Trade Center" and "United 93" - both considerably better than this - it suggests that Hollywood still hasn't quite figured out how to deal with 9-11.