Thomas ran Schell & Sons Jewelers, married to Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) with one son, nine year old Oskar. Oskar’s grandma (Zoe Caldwell) lived across the building way sharing her apartment with a renter (Max von Sydow) and in the evenings Oskar communicated with his Grandma via walkie talkie and flashlight. Oskar was a bit of a hypochondriac at the age of nine, name called his building doorman (John Goodman) every chance he got and since having a special close relationship with his dad he never really got as close to his mother. He and his father played search games known as a reconnaissance expedition and on this particular mission his father had him search for the sixth New York borough, moved and forgotten over years. But on September 11, 2001 everything familiar has now become strange; at 8:56 am his father left voice messages at home that he was alright but inside the World Trade Center. Six messages that only Oskar would hear as the last words spoken from his father who died in the buildings as they crumbled to the ground.
A year later and Oskar as well as his mother Linda struggle remembering their worst day, the day Thomas died. If the sun were to explode we would not know it for another eight minutes since that’s how long it would take for sunlight to reach us. Oskar feels his eight minutes are up and that the memory of his father is and will expire. He has not ventured into his father’s room in a year but upon entering his closet and accidently breaking a blue vase he discovers a key in a small envelop with the name ‘Black’ on it. He then sets off on a journey that eventually brings him closer to his parents, other relatives, strangers, many others affected by the horrific attack on America, on his father.
He travels throughout the city visiting everyone in the phone book with the last name, Black, hoping to find the lock to which the key belongs. It doesn’t help that he fears closed places, bridges and trains, all making it more difficult to travel from place to place. As he visits all of these different people with the last name Black he takes a picture of them with his father’s father’s camera, in turn affecting each and every one of the strangers in different ways. Starting with Abby Black (Viola Davis) who at the time of Oskar’s visit was faced with her husband William (Jeffrey Wright) moving out, each and every person he visited had a story within the incredible journey that Oskar set out on to find answers, keeping a journal along the way.
Throughout the story there are flashbacks to 9/11, reminding him that every day is a miracle and spending six minutes or more with a stranger could honestly change lives, especially that of Oskar’s. As he searches for the lock to the key nothing makes sense to him and he begins to feel that he wasn’t getting closer to his father but instead losing him, wishing to his mother that it were her instead of him in the building that day. Soon though through a brief encounter with the Renter who only speaks with notes and hands, yes on the left palm and no on the right, this older gentlemen who happens to shrug his shoulders like Thomas embarks on the journey with Oskar. The Renter soon sees that Oskar is not only tormented but physically hurting himself as well and asks him to stop. Oskar has hidden many things from his mother, one being the answering machine that contained six messages from his father on that worst day. It is not until he discovers another clue that his journey leads him back to where he started, finding many of the answers he sought but regrets facing. Sometimes in our journeys no matter how big or small we find out that all along there were two sets of footprints along the journey, meaning that like Oskar, we are not alone as well. We must always never forget to say “I love you” to all we care about especially when they ask, “Are you there”?
We affect many people along our own journeys in life whether through physical contact, vocal or written letters. After you get the chance to see this incredible story that is extremely well written, directed and scored, you will soon feel that life is truly short and that we should try to take advantage of every second we have in it since like the bursting of the sun it could all be gone in a matter of minutes. Even though the film is a bit long and loses your attention a bit in the middle during Oskar’s expedition it all comes together in the end leaving the audience satisfied with the results of the questions answered along the way.
The Main focus is on Horn and by no means even though he is a virtual unknown and new to film-making he is superb and truly carries this story from beginning to end. The other entire cast, although matter to the plot, are not quite as visual to the audience but in no means are they less affective. Hanks although seems to lend more vocal attributes to the story than physical he comes across as the father every child would love to grow up with even though in this case Oskar doesn’t have that opportunity thanks to the senseless cowardly act of terrorists on American soil. Bullock even takes a back seat to Horn but when she is on screen she captures every emotion making the audience experience her pain. Goodman has a very small role as well as Caldwell but it is von Sydow that like a silent film character brings animated actions to his intriguing and mysterious character. I’ve become a fan of Davis since her role in “The Help” and once again even though a small but important character she shines as bright as the sun. In the end, remember to bring a box of tissues and brace yourself for flashbacks to your own encounters and memories with 9/11. Other than being twenty minutes too long during Oskar’s journey this story starts out well, becomes a bit complacent but then explodes in the end bringing so many personal flashbacks to that disastrous and meaningless worst day of our lives. Written and emotionally drained with three paws out of four by Jon Patch.