Earlier this week in my movie discussion group on Facebook we were asked what the best acting performance by an actor under 13 is that we’ve seen. Those mentioned included some wonderful performances including Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, Natalie Portman in The Professional, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver and even Dakota Fanning in I Am Sam. I added Saoirse Ronan in Atonement. But that all changed for me today — I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and witnessed a performance for the ages by 13-year-old Thomas Horn…in his first ever acting role…ever…not even a commercial or a school play. Simply amazing.
Yes, the subject matter of the film is difficult and heart-breaking. It’s the story of a boy who loses his father on 911 and who goes on a quest to find the lock to a key that he believes his father meant for him to find. When the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer came out in 2005 many people thought it was too soon for a 911 themed novel. Some are even questioning whether we are ready for it 10 years later. But Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not a true story, it simply uses 911 as a backdrop for a powerful story of love and heartbreak. I’m sure there are people who were in New York on 911 who won’t see this film because it still hits too close to home, and I respect that, but they are going to miss one of the finest acting performances ever by an actor of any age.
I read the novel in 2007 and was a little disappointed quite honestly, most likely because I was so blown away be JSF’s first novel (Everything is Illuminated) that the follow up was sure to disappoint. I liked the novel, but didn’t love it and now I can say this is one of the rare occasions for me when I liked the film version better than the book. Rare indeed. The film is superb and I would certainly consider it among the best films of 2011. It’s hard to watch, but you can’t take your eyes off of Thomas Horn.
Horn has a very interesting life story himself. He was “discovered” when he was on Jeopardy during kid’s week and won $31,000. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close director Stephen Daldry ( The Reader, Billy Elliot, The Hours) had been looking at literally hundreds of kids for the part and when he saw Horn on Jeopardy he knew he found his Oskar Schell. The role called for a special kid, one who was quirky, maybe even borderline Asperger’s. I don’t know how much like Oskar Thomas is in real life, but he hit the role dead on. If you know any kids with Asperger’s or similar issues you know they are often brilliant, precocious and moody as hell. Horn gave us all of those moments in the film, some of which were so expressive they seemed real. The scene in which he has a mental breakdown was heart-wrenching yet so powerful that he should be nominated for an Oscar based on the one scene alone. I will say, if young Horn is not nominated for a best actor Oscar there is no point in watching the Academy Awards this year because they will be a fraud. The kid stole a film from two Academy Award winners (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock) and Academy Award nominated actor Max Von Sydow. If George Clooney is the front runner for The Descendants (in which Clooney was very, very good) then Horn is a shoe in!