Can a movie be considered a good one just because it made you cry? That’s something many reviewers have struggled with when it comes to this film. Look at the components on the table: An adorable, precociously smart child is in mourning for his father, who died in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11. The father is played by Tom Hanks. Sandra Bullock plays the boy’s long-suffering mother. Veteran actor Max von Sydow plays a mysterious stranger who, despite his unwillingness to speak, ever, decides to help the boy on his quest to unlock a riddle his father left behind for him. Come on, is that not a recipe for cute overload — or at least weepy overload? It’s just too precious to take in all at once.
While the story (based on the book by Jonathan Safran Froer) is smartly constructed, many have accused the movie of pulling a bit too hard on the heartstrings. Any movie that makes 9/11 a centerpiece of the plot runs the risk of being labeled as exploitative. But for some, it’s that cathartic mourning that makes a film like this seem brave.
Some films are very easy to judge (see our “Red Tails” review) but with this one, it’s the viewer’s own personal experience of 9/11 that will color how they feel about the film. But everyone, and we mean everyone, will still cry at the end.