Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Review

12/19/2011 at 08:30 AM EST

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, PEOPLE Review
Warner Bros.

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I should tell you that I was living in New York City on 9/11, and am not what one would call "over it." So I approach 9/11-related films with trepidation.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is about grief. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a frank, curious boy, mourns his father (Tom Hanks), who died that day.

The movie is also about the New York that I came to know after 9/11, and that's what makes it extraordinary. When Oskar discovers an envelope with a key among his dad’s things, he puts aside his phobias to find the lock it opens, meeting a string of wondrous people.

The supporting actors, including Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright as a divorcing couple and Max Von Sydow as a kindly mute stranger, are funny, moving and soulful. But the film rests on Horn, and the newcomer is perfect as shy, strange Oskar, who’s sometimes horrible to his mom (Sandra Bullock).

Thankfully, Extremely Loud (based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel) is no pat yarn about how Oskar comes to terms with death. It’s not that easy – the kid is the quintessential walking wounded. But the point is, he’s still walking.

The film opens in limited release on Dec. 25, then expands nationwide on Jan. 20.

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