Cast: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn
Running time: 129 minutes
This film is based on a similarly titled book by Jonathan Safran Foer based on the travails of a nine-year-old boy named Oskar, who may be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Oskar struggles to understand and overcome the loss of his father. I have not read the book and so I watched this without any preconceived notions and while the story may be inspirational, the delivery of the theme’s core messages felt somewhat contrived to me.
The narrative arc of the film begins with a despondent Oskar (Horn) bemoaning the burial of an empty casket at his father’s funeral. His father Thomas (Hanks) we learn, was one of the more than 3,000 people killed in the World Trade Centre tragedy of Sept 11, 2001. Oskar is finding the death of his father extremely tough to deal with and we are shown in flashback why this is so as Thomas spends many hours of quality time with his son, engaging him in a variety of real and imaginary quests that are intended to bring the slightly eccentric Oskar out of his shell.
A year after Thomas dies, Oskar finds a key in an envelope marked “Black” hidden in a blue vase amongst his father’s untouched belongings. This sparks the boy’s next quest as he goes in search of the person named Black, who will be able to shed light on the mysterious key and more importantly, what it could potentially unlock.
Oskar is convinced that his father wanted him to find the answer to the puzzle and embarks on a series of journeys looking for the various Blacks living in the five boroughs of New York, in the hope that someone would know about the key.
From this point onwards, the film gets a little muddled as we follow Oskar’s journey and the people he meets along the way. There is a genuinely nice subplot of a mysterious and mute stranger, played by the always excellent Max von Sydow, who lodges in Oskar’s grandmother’s house and who later accompanies Oskar on his quest.
There are also decent performances from Hanks and Sandra Bullock who plays Oskar's mum, but apart from that, I struggled to understand what the film was trying to convey in terms of its overriding message.
Is it a tale on the effects of the aftermath of 9-11? Is it about a boy with Asperger’s overcoming his disability? Is it about the bond between a father and son? Or is it a larger rumination on life’s journeys? Maybe it’s about all of these. Watch it and decide for yourselves. - Review by S.N.