I’ve seen two rather impressive movies in the past few days, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Grey.
Although both Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are in Extremely Loud, it isn’t their show. Both are good but are only there as support for the performance of Thomas Horn, the young man who virtually steals it from his two super stars. The boy, a year after his father has died in the 9/11 tragedy, finds a key he believes his father has left him as a test of the boy’s ingenuity. With the help of the Renter (Max Von Sydow) the boy searches for the answer to the key, a search that takes him all over the Burroughs of New York. The Renter is a mute old man who rents a room from the boy’s grandmother. We never learn exactly why he is mute, but it makes for an interesting angle to the search and the plot. Finally, he comes to a man who realizes what the key is, the key to a bank deposit box the man’s father had left to him but which he had inadvertently given away in a blue vase he sold to the boy’s father at a garage sale. Whew! Ugly sentence. The mystery is solved, the boy has fulfilled what he believed was a test his father had given him. And all the people the boy had interviewed in his search are moved and emotionally affected by the thank you letter he sent to them. I guess it comes close to melodrama, especially as it deals with the tragedy of 9/11 that many people are still not ready to confront. But it’s well worth seeing if only for the amazing performance of its young star in his acting debut.
Then there’s The Grey, with Liam Neeson. If I thought the opening scenes in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me feel cold, I felt freezing all throughout The Grey. Neeson is working at an Alaskan oil refinery, a protector of the workers mainly by killing wolves. Many, including Neeson, are flying home during blizzard conditions, conditions that bring the plane down in the wilderness with only seven surviving. The seven scavenge the wreckage for clothing and wood and whatever else they might need to survive. And then they discover they’ve come down close to the den of a pack of wolves that resent their intrusion into their world. So, the seven flee from the wolves, trying to make it to the safety of a distant forested area. And one by one, in varying ways, they fall to the wilderness. This could have been a standard “B” flick, predictable action adventure stuff. But it went way beyond that. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a cinematic plane crash as vivid and frightening as this one was. The film makes use of what I call a chaotic camera for its effects of not only the plane crash, but also the attack of the wolves, and the falling from a high ledge into a stand of pines. We’re not only watching the action, we’re also participating in the crashing and beating off of wolves and falling through the branches to the ground. What especially takes it beyond the typical is the question of faith and the will to survive against insurmountable odds. Death, he tells one dying victim of the crash, is like a floating over, and then warmth. How does he know this? He learned it from his dying wife, who keeps telling him in his dream states, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.” Neeson’s father had written a four-line poem that Neeson takes to heart: “Once more into the fray, / Into the last good fight I'll ever know. / Live or die on this day. / Live or die on this day.” And he decides he will go “once more into the fray.” A good, frightening, naturalistic film.