Thomas Schell, a jeweler living in New York, had an incredible relationship with his son Oskar. Embracing a love for adventure, the two grew up together solving mysteries and embracing the process of learning. All of that changed on September 11, 2001. After losing his father, Oskar and his mother struggled to move forward. Already reserved, Oskar is greatly affected by what he calls the worst day. About one year after the worst day, Oskar finally built up the courage to look in his father’s closet. Finding it just the way it was a year ago, he looks to reconnect with the idea of his father being alive but ends up breaking a blue vase and finding a key to an unknown lock. Curious about its use and meaning, Oskar begins to concoct a plan to figure out where the key goes and believes the mission will keep his father’s memory alive. Finding a clue that serves as a starting point, he searches the city to find the lock that matches his key.
Starring: Thomas Horn (Oskar Schell), Tom Hanks (Thomas Shell), Sandra Bullock (Linda Schell), Zoe Caldwell (Oskar’s Grandmother), Max von Sydow (The Renter), Viola Davis (Abby Black), John Goodman (Stan the Doorman), Jeffrey Wright (William Black), Hazelle Goodman (Hazelle Black), Stephen Henderson (Walt the Locksmith)
Thomas Horn is a young man who can only be described as simply unforgettable. As the lead character for this film, he takes an eccentric boy and gives him such depth and emotional connectivity. In a line during the first half of the film, he highlights that he was tested for Aspergers but the test came up inconclusive. While he does give a performance that would lean toward the presence of a social disorder, he mixes in the pain of a boy trying to reconcile the loss of his father in a way that is both avoidant and confrontational. Serving as his source of influence, Tom Hanks plays the supportive and intellectually-driven father. Hanks is central to the story of the film but provides a solid performance that does not overshadow the work of Horn. Sandra Bullock initially appears a little lost in the relationship between Hanks and Horn, but she immediately evolves into a grieving wife and desperate mother after the moment of tragedy. Zoe Caldwell (grandmother), Max von Sydow (the renter) and Viola Davis (Abby Black) each provide great support for Horn’s quest and add their own emotional moments. John Goodman was an interesting choice as an accomplished actor but provided a meager role and little connection with the viewer.
Though a little imperfect, Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of the acclaimed story gives all the proper depth and emotional presence one would expect from a story based in the events of 9/11. Oskar is already a quirky, very self-aware child whose life is wrapped up in he devotion for his father. Their relationship was as strong as it could possibly be. It is not surprising that such a traumatic event as the attack could emotionally and socially paralyze Oskar. Looking for answers and a way to keep his father’s memory alive, the key provides a journey that lets him delay his acceptance of his father being gone and instead embrace the type of relationship they shared when he was alive. He seemingly has his mother fooled and only finds someone to share his journey who cannot talk back to criticize his decisions. The unseen benefit that he is just not able to comprehend is the number of amazing stories he learns as he meets people all over the city.
The story is much more than just the search. The tagline for the film highlights that the movie is not about September 11th but actually the process of moving forward. Oskar may be on a search to find the use of the key and its significance to his father, but the journey is a platform for him to use his father’s lessons and exhibit his commitment to the memory. Though the story is narrated and lead by Oskar, Linda Schell exhibits more of the depression and post-traumatic stress iconic of the events of that days. At the same time, she also handles her situation as a single mother in a rather unique way that is not understood until much later in the film. Adding in the interesting side story of the mute renter in his grandmother’s apartment gives the extra flair that adds to the twists and turns of Oskar’s journey.
This is a film that may be criticized for its use of 9/11 for emotional effect, but the story keeps more toward the challenges associated with coping after the trauma and particularly from the perspective of a child. Definitely a MUST see.
Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5