THE LOVELY BONES isn't really a bad movie, exactly. It's not even fair to say that it's a disappointment (although I had certainly hoped to be moved more by it), because as I think back on my feelings after reading the book, there were flaws aplenty there as well. Unfortunately, the flaws seem more obvious on screen and the strengths fade somewhat to the background.
Set in the 1970's, THE LOVELY BONES introduces us to the Salmon family. Jack, the father (Mark Wahlberg) is an accountant, and mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) stays home. There a young son, a middle sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and oldest sister Susie (Saoirse Ronan from ATONEMENT), who is about 14 or so. They live in a nice, suburban neighborhood, wear nice earth-tone, corduroy clothing we associate with that time, and they have small arguments and little joys. They also live down the street from George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), a mild-mannered loner...who one afternoon after school murders young Susie as she's walking home across a dried-out cornfield.
Because it's the `70s, there isn't yet a CSI to descend upon the scene, and as a body is not recovered...the investigation, led by Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) never gets anywhere near enough evidence to point them to the killer.
The Salmon family begins to unravel, as one can easily imagine any family doing in such horrible circumstances. When Abigail's mom Lynn (Susan Sarandon) shows up to supervise the household, the results are both hurtful and helpful.
All of this would alone be enough for a potentially powerful story. But the story also posits that we see much of it from the eyes of Susie, who is not quite able to move on to heaven because she is anxious to see her murderer brought to justice and to see her family achieve some kind of peace. Her "in-between" location is a constantly changing marvel of CGI landscapes, full of beauty (Susie more or less conjures up her surroundings) and full of portentous metaphors.
This device, in the book, was interesting but not very gripping, to be honest. Susie is dead and unable to really influence the world she sees. We understand that she needs closure in order to move on to heaven...but it's hard to really get emotionally involved with that dilemma. Yes, it's awful that she was killed...but knowing the heaven truly awaits her makes her "torment" merely seem inconvenient for her. I don't mean to sound callous...but we know that an eternally happy ending awaits her. It is the torment of those she's left behind that is the real power of the story. These are emotions we can relate to. And when the book explored them, we could be readily gripped by their power. A father obsessed with investigating the crime. A mother who can't even stand to live in the same house anymore...not only because of her missing child, but her distant husband. A younger sister ripped by grief but also by resentment at the childhood she is missing. A grandmother who is more accustomed to drinking and smoking and indulging, suddenly forced to step up and be a better mother than she had been before. A cop emotionally shredded by his inability to make headway. And a cold-blooded killer living in comfort down the street. In the book, a fair balance is struck between the lives of those on earth, and the observations of young Susie looking down.
Writer / director Peter Jackson's singular mistake with the film is to let Susie's world and voice play a far more dominant role than in the book. Some have complained that too much time is spent "wowing" us with the world Susie lingers in. I didn't mind the scenery...it's just that we spent too much time there. And Ronan's voiceovers are constant throughout the film...she's telling us the story, and this removes us somewhat from simply FEELING things.
There is power in the film. The moments leading up to Susie's attack, when she goes against her own best judgment and allows herself to be cornered by Harvey are horribly effective. Some have had the nerve to criticize that we don't see the actual attack. I was worked up enough without that, thank you very much. There are little moments of raw emotion throughout the film.
But by bringing things to the screen, THE LOVELY BONES feels less like a story of a family than it does a ghost story. Various characters get glimpses of Susie. Near the end, there is a ludicrous scene when Susie is, more or less, able to come back for a moment. There appears to be a smidge of supernatural intervention in what happens to Harvey. None of this was needed, because Jackson should have trusted to a simpler story and let his stellar cast go to town. Mark Wahlberg shows us the anguish and guilt he feels...and given more script time, might have developed a truly unforgettable performance. The normally reliable Weisz actually is given little to do, and Sarandon is saddled with a caricature rather than a character. Imperioli was born to play this role, but instead, it is underwritten and generic.
Yet I must point out that the movie IS worth seeing, if only for 3 performances. Young Rose McIver as the surviving sister feels remarkably grounded in her performance. Her character is able to move on with her life, yet Susie is always a presence to her and she carried a healthy dose of anger with her. She brings some real drama to the latter portion of the film. Young Ronan is a striking presence, and while I disagree vehemently with how much voiceover time she is given...she does excellent work. And best of all is Stanley Tucci, playing one of the creepiest killers we've seen in a long, long time. Awards will come his way...but if the movie around him had been a little better, his psycho would be right up there with the likes of Hannibal Lecter...except his character is cringingly credible. Tucci is the actor of 2009, with his stellar work opposite Meryl Streep in JULIE & JULIA (where he is so likeable) and in LOVELY BONES, where the sickness practically drips from him.
So see LOVELY BONES for its good moments and performances, but also mourn what COULD have been if character had been allowed to win over the supernatural.
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Director Peter Jackson takes a personal, risky leap in his direction of the film version of Alice Sebold's bestselling novelThe Lovely Bones. Yet the leap pays off, in emotional depth and riveting visuals that transport the viewer to other worlds--even ones the viewer may not want to visit.The Lovely Bonesis lofted by its star-making performance by the young Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who plays Susie Salmon, the 14-year-old girl who is murdered early in the film, and who narrates the action from her "in-between place" after dying but before going to heaven. Ronan makes Susie as earthy and awkward as any young teen, yet her presence, and her gorgeous pale eyes, remind viewers that she's otherworldly too.The Lovely Bonestakes some big departures from the book, as many critics have pointed out, but it works well on its own merits. The drama involves how (even whether) Susie's family will recover after her ghastly murder, and what happens to her killer and the futile-seeming search for justice and closure. The entire cast is stellar, including Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's nearly destroyed parents; the composed young New Zealand actress Rose McIver, who plays Susie's younger sister, whom Susie watches grow up to be the young woman that Susie will never get to be; and Susan Sarandon, the boozy, wisecracking grandmother who may or may not be able to help keep the family from splintering into a million pieces. The other true standout is ...