Schell and his son Oskar (Thomas Horn) enjoy having missions given to them - such as finding an object from every decade in the past century. Though he loves his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), Oskar seems to get along much better with his father.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Oskar is let out of school early, though he is not exactly sure why. When he gets home he discovers a few messages on the answering machine - and five of them are from his father who is inside the World Trade Center. As he finishes the fifth message, the phone rings. It's his father who begins to leave a sixth message - which then goes silent. Oskar immediately realizes that his father has died.
After his father's death, Oskar and his mother grow even further apart. He gets comfort from his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), who lives across the street in another building. He flashes her light from a flashlight whenever he needs to speak to her. In her apartment she is also housing a man that she calls 'the renter' (Max von Sydow) - which intrigues Oskar,
Oskar finds a vase inside his father's closet, that falls and breaks. Inside the vase is a small envelope with the name Black on it, and inside is a key. Oskar takes it upon himself to find the owner of the key - sort of a last riddle that his father gave him to work on.
When he visits his grandmother she is not there - and he encounters her renter. The renter does not speak - he only writes his answers, and has the words Yes and No on his hands. When asked if he wants to go on the journey with Oskar, he raises the hand Yes.
Together they head out to find the person that belongs to the key, and there are 472 Blacks in the New York phone book.
The film is both sad and a journey to find happiness again. As Oskar goes out on his journey he is forced to speak with other people, and he grows a strong bond with both his grandmother and the renter, who actually has a special place in Oskar's life. And, Oskar's realization that his mother does in fact love him.
Hanks, as I said, is barely in the movie. He is in the beginning, and serves as a bit of a narrator - he is also seen in a few flashbacks.
The stars of the film are easily Horn and von Sydow. Despite not being able to communicate very easily, their chemistry is really good. I really enjoyed von Sydow - Horn is young, and eventually I think he could be a pretty good actor. Here he was decent enough to carry the film - but I feel other child actors might have been able to do better.
It was a good watch, and despite 9/11 now being over 12 years ago, I feel it is still too fresh. I have been able to watch a few of the films about it, and I am glad that I did, but I have only been able to watch them once.