Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: Eric Roth
Produced by: Scott Rudin
Runtime: 129 minutes
Oskar Schell lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. He is left with the aching memory of a loving father and the undeniably distant relationship with his mother. While his mother accepts the struggle brought by that event in their life as a family, Oskar chooses not to. Upon the discovery of a key kept inside a small envelope with the name “BLACK” written on it, Oskar embarks on a journey to find the lock that the key fits in for it might reveal to him something that his father wants to tell him.
With the very mixed reception that it earned from the critics, I was quite unsure of what to expect with this film. With such harsh reviews, tagging the film as exploitative and insensitive, I was anticipating an unpleasant.
Luckily, right at the start, the film immediately draws into a fascinating study of the human side of the effects of 9/11 in the life of Oskar. No, the film is not about the terrorist attacks. With only a few scenes to show the events that unfolded during that fateful day, the film carefully crafts a narrative that utilizes that event only as a backbone for the emotional journey of the film to work.
And while the screenplay of the film forwards the captivating story with deliciously textured characterization, it is the sensitivity of the treatment of the narrative that makes the film a more involving and ultimately heart-wrenching experience, thanks to the deft control of the direction. The film’s storyline is manoeuvred with an immense but surprisingly subtle sense of moving honesty despite the potential of the material to go overboard. Yes, the film dwells in the mind of Oskar, and some scenes depict the turmoil in the psyche of Oskar, but the direction never loses the touch of humanity that makes it all work.
That is what makes the film work so much on high levels – humanity. It is a film that tackles humanity and all of its dimensions. It is not afraid to meticulously examine what makes each character in the film human that any loss would mean a lot in the lives of these characters. With that, the effects transcend to the audience, making this film a really heart-rending one.
While the film is a complete success in the human side of the story, it also has noticeable technical proficiency. The polished work on the cinematography and editing constructs a film that is visually exhilarating while its musical score is nothing short of a masterpiece. It provides a very rich heart and soul unlike any other film that I have seen, making the film a really emotionally gripping and spellbinding experience.
Another thing to value in this film is the acting that gives justice to the rich shadings of each character. Tom Hanks is credible as Oskar’s father whose absence left his wife and son undeniably wounded. In a few scenes, Viola Davis manages to bring to life a character that underlines complexities against its brief presence in the story, delivering each line with an evident heart and sincerity.
Also in the film is Sandra Bullock in a shattering but surprisingly understated performance as Oskar’s distant but caring mother. In the silent looks and modest gestures, a hurt soul is obviously manifested. Bullock selflessly withdraws herself from any easy way out of histrionics to build a character that buries her worries and concerns to herself due to her incapacity to live her life again.
Another noticeable actor is Max von Sydow as the old man that helps Oskar in his quest to find the meaning of the key. Deprived of speech, von Sydow shows empathy through his looks, glances, and movements. With this role, von Sydow has proven his capability to fully flesh out a character that the audience must connect to despite the silence that physically separates him.
However, the film is all about Thomas Horn giving one of the most astonishing performances a young actor has ever given. His Oskar Schell is a very tricky character, and it did not work for everyone, but I really appreciate how he forms this character that is not immediately likable because of his eccentricities. Instead of resulting to his juvenile charms that would easily get the audience’s bond, he digs deep into the character for us to see a tragic portrait of a peculiar man whose inability to fully understand life as a whole. The result is an astoundingly touching performance.
This is a beautiful film. Not really because of any technical accomplishment that it has, but because it was able to find the beauty in humanity. Few films are able to do so. With this film, what are presented to us are the dimensions of what makes human beings the human beings that they are. We all have flaws, and the film does not deny that fact. What it achieves is an examination of relationships that ultimately brings out the magnificence of being.
For this, the film gets: