Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The Stars: Tom Hanks, Max Von Sydow, Sandra Bullock
The Buzz: Nominated for Best Picture Oskar and based on a bestselling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The story: A year after his father died in the World Trade Center on what Oskar calls “The Worst Day,” Oskar, an inventive eleven year-old New Yorker, discovers a key in his deceased father’s belongings that sets him off on an urgent search across the city for the lock it will open.
insing.com thinks: Trying to put a film on a weighty a subject as 9/11 and a city’s recovery from the aftermath is not easy, and Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliott, can’t quite bring the magic he found in his debut film, considering the heavy subject material, on a young actor that has to take on a quirky role.
A coming-of-age story intermixed with how one comes to grips with loss and an event as random as the 9/11 attacks, Daldry relies on Oskar’s quest to find the lock that the mysterious key opens. In his journey, Oskar comes across the natives of New York and finds compassion and understanding from them, and finds help from unexpected sources.
Daldry, working from a film script by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), knows how to go for the tear ducts. It’s a pity that the film comes across as manipulative and almost exploitative, parading out 9/11 imagery such as the falling men, but the characters are half-formed. Seemingly autistic Oskar has a barrel of quirks, including an unwillingness to cross bridges and take trains, that he has to overcome.
Hanks and Bullock are serviceable but highly distracting, and it’s hard to imagine the two as a couple. They have only one scene together before the collapse of the towers. Von Sydow, who plays a mute renter, tries to do as much as he can with his limited role, and his face conveys a lifetime of tragedy. The young Horn has to carry the movie on his frail shoulders and take on a character that often comes across as unsympathetic and occasionally irrational, and it’s too much of a tall order for the actor, particularly in a film that carries so much weight.
Ultimately, the film suffers from contrivances and tries too hard to serve out Hallmark channel moments. It’s a noble effort trying to tell a difficult story, but doesn’t quite come close to great cinema.