Trevor Horn has never acted. He is a bit of a brainiac, and a winner of Jeopardy Teen Challenge. Horn reportedly deals with issues shared by Oscar, the narrator and lead character in the book and film, a hyper focused and curious adolescent whose single minded obsession sends him on a journey of discovery.
Horn is brilliant, and puts in one of the greatest child performances of the year.
Two years before the story begins, on 9/11, his father (Tom Hanks) jumped to his death from one of the World Trade Center towers. They shared a remarkably close connection and intellectual curiosity about the world and how it operates. His father accepted his intellectual passion and the conditions that drove it and with him, Oscar felt complete and free.
After the tragedy, Oscar searches the family home for clues, or more accurately, connection with his beloved father, and stumbles across a blue vase containing a key. Its fires his imagination and he sets off to determine its significance, what lock it opens and why “Black” is written on the envelope.
Through intense study, and some lucky guesswork, he realizes Black is someone’s name. He makes a list of every Black in Manhattan and the outer boroughs and sets off to find them and discover the key’s meaning and what they knew about his father.
Oscar is acting on his own. His mother (Sandra Bullock) seems lost in her own world of pain and loneliness. Her grieving appears to interfere with her life and parenting. Oscar’s closest friend is his grandmother (Zoé Caldwell) who lives in the next building.
They can see into each other’s rooms and communicate over walkie talkies. When Oscar lies under the bed trying to manage his grief and she comes over and lies down with him and listens.
Oscar hasn’t told anyone about the messages his father left the morning of the attacks. He replaced the household message machine and hid the real one, with its heartbreaking.
Life-0-changing messages, in his closet. His father is trying to reach the family, and gradually learns what will happen to him. It is a huge emotional burden and Oscar prefers to carry it alone.
A stranger (Max Von Sydow) moves into his grandmother apartment and he’s warned to stay away from him. But being the curious cat he is, Oscar seeks him out and they become friends, they join forces and pick up Oscars sojourn through New York to find the Blacks.
The gifted Stephen Daldry has taken full control of what could have been a sentimental and sloppy adaptation of the book. The film’s uncompromising restraint makes the emotion somehow more piquant.
Oscar isn’t the most sympathetic character to lead a film because of his incessant and aggressive questioning, head spinning strategizing and inability to take instruction. But he is what he is. Horn is absolutely a natural, withstands the energy of the script and character and brings it home.
Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman, the wonderful Viola Davis, Caldwell and the leads form a cast that will give you goose bumps. Throw in Daldry and wow.
Visit the movie database for more information.
Written by Eric Roth, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Opens Dec 25
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language