Released some months after the 10th anniversary of the events, and brought to you by the man latterly known for The Reader (aka Now I Can Read! With a Hot Nazi), Stephen Daldry’s film is evidence that the 9/11 weepie is far from extinct, if this studio-strength attempt is anything to go by. Working from a screenplay by Insider and Benjamin Button scribe Eric Roth, Daldry delivers a surprisingly engaging adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s stridently voiced novel about a precocious boy dealing with the death of his father in the terror attacks.
Or not dealing: the movie’s chief strength, its saving grace, is the passionate portrayal of know-it-all brat Oskar by Thomas Horn, a boy apparently (and appropriately) making his debut after cleaning up on kids’ Jeopardy!. As the implacable child combs Manhattan in a search triggered by a single cryptic clue, his brusque single-mindedness (and the tough love of his mother, played by Sandra Bullock) gooses along a film that might otherwise have quickly succumbed to sentimentality (as, indeed, it does at times with regard to Oskar’s travel companion, played by Max von Sydow).
But the obsessiveness imported from Foer’s novel is crucial in conveying one kind of compensatory response to the void of grief produced by the destruction of the Twin Towers, and even to the challenges of revisualizing that notoriously televised catastrophe.