Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
No movie has ever been able to provide a catharsis for the Holocaust, and I suspect none will ever be able to provide one for 9/11. Such subjects overwhelm art. The artist's usual tactic is to center on individuals whose lives are a rebuke to the tragedy. They sidestep the actual event and focus on a parallel event that ends happily, giving us a sentimental reason to find consolation. That is small comfort to the dead.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" tells the story of an 11-year-old boy named Oskar Schell, who is played by the gifted and very well cast Thomas Horn. His father was killed in 9/11. Indeed, intensely scrutinizing videos of bodies falling from one of the towers, Oskar fancies he can actually identify him. We see a lot of Thomas, his father, in flashbacks, and he is played by Tom Hanks, who has come to embody an American Everyman. As a father, Thomas was a paragon, spending countless quality hours with Oskar and involving the bright kid in ingenious mind games. Perhaps he suspected what Oskar now tells us about himself: He may have Asperger's syndrome, a condition affecting those who are very intelligent but lack ordinary social skills. For a kid like that, driven to complete tasks he has set for himself, his dad's challenges are compelling.
The film opens with the father's funeral (the casket is empty). We meet Oskar's mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), who Thomas feels distant from and resents for being the parent who is still alive. He has no idea how much he hurts her. He is close with his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) and learns that his paternal grandparents were Holocaust victims.
In a vase on the upper shelf of a closet, Oskar finds an envelope with the word "Black" on it. It contains a key. Oskar decides that the key might unlock a secret of his father's past — perhaps a message. Because the word is capitalized, he decides it is a name, and he sets out to visit everyone named Black in New York City. From a city phone book, he comes up with a list of 472 of them. Oskar sets out on foot, because one of his peculiarities is that he won't use public transportation. To boost his confidence, he takes along his tambourine. That he is able to undertake this task while apparently keeping it a secret from his mother is a tribute to his intelligence. That he thinks it's safe for an 11-year-old to walk alone all over New York is not.