daniel cohen reviews the Oscar-nominated film …
Plot: When the socially awkward Oskar (Thomas Horn) loses his father (Tom Hanks) in the Sept. 11 attacks, he finds a mysterious key that may hold something his father left behind for him. Oskar searches all the boroughs of New York talking with potential people who may have a connection to what the key unlocks.
Alright, if you’re the type of person who cries at movies, make sure you bring a box of tissues with you. It feels like this movie’s sole purpose is to poke you until you cry your eyes out. That’s certainly what the last twenty minutes felt like, but we’ll get to that. To the film’s credit though, it earns its audience’s tears with some damn good acting.
Tom Hanks reminds us why he’s one of the greatest actors of all time. Even with very little screen time, he leaves his mark. That guy is remarkable. He creates one of the most likable characters in the last five years with maybe ten to fifteen minutes of screen time. He should have gotten Best Supporting Actor consideration for this film.
Then we got Sandra Bullock who plays the wife and mother. She pretty much just cries and looks despondent the whole time, but she’s really good at it. She does have some amazing scenes with Thomas Horn, including one in the middle where the dialogue between them is just harsh to listen to as the mother/son relationship is in complete shambles. Speaking of Horn, he carries the film pretty well. I don’t think he’s incredible, but there are a couple scenes where he reaches some pretty serious emotional high points. And Max von Sydow as the older gentleman who doesn’t speak and later accompanies Oskar on his journey is extremely empathetic.
The weakness of the film is that, while it has some incredible individual scenes, I don’t think it works that well as a whole. It cuts back and forth between the present (in this case, 2002), and the events of 9/11. Both story arcs produce some intense moments. There are a few scenes in particular involving an answering machine that really got to me, and provided a lot of tension. It’s just that these two story arcs don’t connect all that well throughout the film, until the very end. And while the end is very satisfying as to what this key ultimately unlocks, it wraps up pretty lazily. Seriously, they just throw in this random clue at the end that leads Oskar to where he needs to go … lame.
Speaking of the end, while it’s a strong conclusion, it has serious Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King syndrome: Too many endings! I thought there were five or six times this was going to end, but it kept going. Seriously, this film just goes crazy, and tries to hit you with a Gatling gun of emotions in the last 20 minutes, it’s insane. The last third is pretty powerful, but as the ending got more drawn out, it started to lose its impact. It also leaves some serious unresolved issues that include Sydow’s character, as well as Oskar’s uncomfortable moments where he inflicts minor pain onto himself that really feels cheaply thrown in, and is not addressed nearly enough. You can’t just throw something like that in there. Although, they do incorporate one element involving Sandra Bullock’s character at the end that made me feel better about this kid walking around New York City alone talking to strangers, because that did bother me.
This film actually reminds me a lot of Hugo earlier this year. Both are about kids who want to unlock some hidden message from their father, both are paced like a snail, but with this film, it’s way more interesting, and I cared a lot more as opposed to boring dense Hugo. The script has its flaws, but the directing (Stephen Daldry) and acting really elevate it. Although one thing that pissed me off is that I couldn’t figure out what the title meant. I’m sure I missed something, but I never understood its significance. What the hell?
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)