It’s difficult to understand why this film rated an Oscar nomination for best picture. Perhaps it was because the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center still resonates with Americans. But the film did not resonate with me.
Don’t misunderstand me: the film is original and well-produced. But the theme depends too much on the assumption that the viewer will experience the same grief as the central character, young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), who loses his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), in the WTC attack.
Oskar’s anguish at his father’s death takes the form of a frantic, but intelligently constructed, search for the lock that matches a mysterious key he finds in Thomas’s closet. Armed only with the clue that the key is associated with someone named Black, Oscar attempts to interview every Black in New York City. In this, he is aided by a sullen neighbour (Max von Sydow), known only as “The Renter”,who has not uttered a word after being struck dumb by the horrors of the Second World War. Meanwhile, Oskar’s mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), sinks into apparent apathy.
And that’s where the film lost me. We are supposed to compare the griefs of three characters (Oskar, Linda and The Renter), but the futility of Oscar’s obsessive search obscures that theme. Besides, Linda never meets The Renter, so that comparison is lost. The resolution to the search, when it arrives, is contrived, unsatisfying and unrealistic.
Two minor quirks of this film. First, it is touted as starring Hanks and Bullock, yet these veterans play only supporting roles. Von Sydow, who says not a word, has a bigger part. Second, who on earth dreamed up that title? I thought I was going to see a movie about a rock band.
Bottom line. A solid film with the fatal flaw of not being particularly interesting.