After seeing this movie with my wife and several friends a few days ago, the temptation to come up with a snarky take on the title for this review -- like maybe "Extremely Shallow and Incredibly Tedious" -- is nearly overwhelming. Unlike my wife and two of the three friends who went with us, I have not read the book from which the movie is adapted, so they may have a much more profound sense of what meaning was supposed to be in this story. I have to say that watching the movie does not inspire me to read the book, outside of a small part of me which wonders if the book would leave me as cold as the movie did.
There was one moment in the entire movie -- one! -- when I felt real emotion coming through the acting and writing, and that happened near the end when the lead character, a kid named Oskar, tells his mother something that his father said about her during his last phone call before he perished in the fall of one of the two World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. The rest of the time, I was bored… and completely unmoved.
Which I did not expect to be, given what I had heard about the film's alleged high-powered emotional content. But I found the whole thing weirdly clinical and with a sort of fantastical edge which worked against the attempt to wring emotion from the story.
Basically, it's a tale told shortly after 9/11, about a boy who finds, in some of his late father's stuff, a mysterious key in a small envelope with the word "Black" written on it. The boy goes off to try to find the lock it fits into, hoping it will… bring him closure? Help him learn something about his father? Understand loss? It's never really clear… and as we watch the boy go from one person to the next (he's going to every person with the surname "Black" in the five boroughs of New York… because, of course, it could only be someone living in NYC who held the answer to the mystery of the key -- like many stories set in NYC, the rest of the world doesn't really exist), the tedium grows. Eventually he does find out where the key belongs, and the reveal is just as pointless as the rest of the movie.
The movie is not completely without merit. Tom Hanks does what he can with his relatively meager role as the boy's doomed father, Sandra Bullock emotes pretty well as the boys mother, and Max Von Sydow does a great job in a pivotal role as the boy's mute grandfather.
Sorry… I just gave away one of the movies most painfully obvious "mysteries". But he really is wonderful in this role.
The tragedy of 9/11 is fertile ground for stories, and i am sure as the years go by it will feature in more and more of them, some of them undoubtedly gut-wrenchingly emotional. This is not one of them, in my opinion. Maybe the book packs a bigger punch, I don't know.
But I found myself curiously resentful of this movie's use of 9/11 as a handy emotional button it could press, and it's glaringly obvious assumption that people watching the movie would respond like Pavlov's dogs whenever that button was pressed.
It got to the point of ludicrousness, this shoving of 9/11 in the viewers' faces, when, late in the movie, there is a scene where the boy confesses his biggest secret--
--SPOILER ALERT!!! --
-- that his father called from one of the towers before it collapsed, and the boy -- out of fear and denial -- didn't pick up the phone. All of this is shown in a flashback, wherein you see the kid, the phone, the answering machine… and as the father's call comes in, the answering machine announces the time and date (or maybe it's the date and then the time, I don't remember). Now… have YOU ever encountered an answering machine which announces the date and time, or time and date, when the call first comes in? I surely haven't. In my experience with a bunch of different answering machines, the time and date (or date and time) is only announced when you play the messages back.
But here, once again, the moviemakers can't resist the urge to bludgeon the viewer over the head with the fact that this happened on 9/11. -- PL