I don’t know how Stephen Daldry does it. He has conducted yet another masterclass in the confection of high-tone, middle-brow Oscar bait and has succeeded triumphantly. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, manipulative and fraudulent at every level, has its nominations in place and is on the road to the Academy Awards. And that is exactly what was meant to happen. Rarely have I seen a movie as maniacally fine-tuned to drive the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences into orgasms of approbation and applause. It may not carry home the statuettes, but no one can say they didn’t try everything.
Daldry – already bedazzled unto blindness by glib, overrated books like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and Bernhard Schlink’s schlocky bestseller The Reader – was a shoo-in to be suckered by Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel. It’s one of those twee, child-centric works that sift through the last shakings of the postmodernist bag for ways to enliven their inch-deep whimsy and fathomless solipsism – crapulous, cod-Vonnegut cutesiness being Foer’s weakness – and often presume an intimacy with grave and terrible events, the better to drape themselves in the mantle of importance.
Thus we are given an annoyingly prodigious and self-satisfied nine-year-old boy with a 30-year-old’s mind (oh, I would so bully this kid if he was in my school), who goes on a New York-wide treasure hunt to solve a riddle left to him by his father, who died on 9/11.
For me, Daldry plus Safran Foer equals a perfect storm of all that is worth despising in modern “quality” cinema and the tripe issuing from the mills of the hollowed-out American creative-writing establishment which holds Foer so close to its corrupted bosom. It only took Foer four years to publish his 9/11 novel – indecent haste, some said – but it took a lot longer to polish the adaptation to this degree of gleaming Oscar-worthiness, with five years being spent on the script alone by Eric Roth, the guy they always call in for movies like this. After that, the casting and crew were big-money all the way, with the ever Oscar-hungry Hanks and Bullock up top, respected pros in the second tier – Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright and Max von Sydow – plus Chris Menges as cinematographer, and Alexandre Desplat for the rousing and saccharine score. The net result: the use of good taste in collaborators to exhibit deplorable taste in film-making itself.
Foer’s last literary outing saw him cutting out words from his “favourite novel”, Bruno Schultz’s The Street Of Crocodiles, to make an entirely new text. Why do such a thing to one’s favourite novel? Shouldn’t one instead cut a great new work of art out of something that was crap? Because if a cut-up film-maker is looking for a movie like that to hack away at, I have the candidate right here.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010