"People aren't like numbers, they're more like letters. And those letters want to become stories, and dad said those stories need to be shared."
What? This fucking movie, man. This fucking movie is so calculated and knowingly manipulative that anyone who sheds a single tear while watching it has fallen victim to a criminal act. For many years I thought that Amistad was the most shamelessly manipulative film ever made, the kind of movie made for no other reason than to win Oscars. My friend Jaime said my favorite thing about that movie: every time there was a shot of an actor talking, you could picture them in a little box in the bottom corner of the screen, in their tuxedo, at the Oscars. Amistad is awful, don't get me wrong, and it's shameless too, but it's a masterpiece of restraint when held up next to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
First of all, shame on every notable actor in this film: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman, Max VonSydow. They should have known better than to appear in such dreck. Maybe they wanted an Oscar a piece, but only VonSydow came close to that (though not really). The behind the scenes on this movie must have been like that awful Christopher Guest movie For Your Consideration where everyone just walked around talking about how they were gonna get nominated, and then only MVS pulled it off. In fact, I'd rather watch that movie again than this one. I'm amazed it wasn't included as a special feature on the dvd, because it's pretty much on the nose.
So what is this movie? It's the story of a precocious eleven year-old (though he was only nine in the book, which I read and liked because it wasn't all about 9/11. In fact, 9/11 had more screen time than almost all of the actors I mentioned in the last paragraph) named Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) who's dad died in the WTC on 9/11. When his dad was alive, he used to send him on adventures, presumably because it kept him occupied as he's a bit rambunctious. There's talk that he may have Asperger's, but it's swept under the table as quickly as it's mentioned. Anyhoo, Oskar is digging in his father's closet after 9/11 (have I mentioned 9/11?) and he finds a vase that he accidentally shatters. Inside the vase is a key in an envelope with the word "Black" written on it. Convinced that it must be part of one last adventure his father intended to send him on, Oskar sets off to find out who and what the key belongs to.
Oskar digs through the phone book to discover there are 400+ people living in New York City with the last name Black, and has decided to visit every single one of them to find out how they knew his father or what the key unlocks. On a chance visit to his grandmother's apartment, he meets a mute old man (MVS) renting out a room in her apartment, who communicates only through writing things down, or flashing one of his hands that has either Yes or No written on it. Twee enough for you?
The renter agrees to join Oskar on his quest to help solve the mystery, and the film is ridiculously coy about trying to disguise the fact that of course the old man is his estranged grandfather. I hate comparing the film to the book, but the book never even hinted at this possibility until it was revealed. Here, you're so annoyed by how everything seems to be interconnected that this is the only possible resolution to their story.
The film actually starts out pretty good. I remember thinking the first twenty minutes or so were actually halfway decent, but once it becomes clear that the filmmakers latched onto the 9/11 thing and decided to frame every moment of the film in that tragedy's context, it struck me that the entire thing was just a bunch of weepy bullshit being made by someone who completely missed the point of the entire book. That someone would be notorious "everything is connected" hack Eric Roth, the guy behind the scripts for Forrest Gump & Benjamin Button. (to his credit, he was a credited writer on two great films The Insider & Munich, but the three screenplays I mentioned previously were all written solo by Roth).
Stephen Daldry is famous for one thing, and that is the fact that his first three films earned him Oscar nominations for directing (Billy Elliot, which I love, and The Hours & The Reader which I don't), so you just knew that this thing was gonna be Oscar-bait, but the degree to which it was nauseated me.
The fact that it actually scored a Best Picture nomination makes me ill. In fact, it may be the cause of my current head cold, though it probably isn't. The only possible equation I can give you for what this adaptation is if you haven't read the book, is that it would be like someone reading one of the Gospels and ignoring all of the teaching and miracles that Jesus performed and just focusing on the crucifixion, because that's the most emotionally draining stuff in the story, and the easiest way to manipulate the emotions of a viewing audience. Come to think of it, I think this has been done before as well.
Anyway, the good news is that you'd have to go out of your way to see this movie as it's only recently out on dvd, and redbox doesn't carry it yet, so please don't track it down. If you find yourself in a situation where you do end up seeing the movie, I implore you to read the book and see for yourself how ridiculously off this adaptation really is. But it would probably be best to just avoid all this nonsense altogether and just read Don DeLillo's Falling Man. It's actually about 9/11, and is much more emotional without being manipulative.