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When The Lovely Bones was published in 2002 it gained critical acclaim and was an instant bestseller. The film rights were bought up by Film4 before it was even published and attempted to develop it despite the fact that book was an unfilmable novel. But one man, Peter Jackson, stepped up to the challenge, and seeing he was able to bring the Lord of the Rings to the screen then a 328 page book wouldn’t be a problem, right?
Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is a typical teenage girl living in the suburbs of 1970s Pennsylvania. Like many girls she was into fashion and pop music and developing her first crush. She personally harboured an ambition to be a photographer. But her family’s life is shattered when Susie is murdered by her neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Susie cannot accept her death and is unable to go to Heaven. She is left in a lonely purgatory known as the “in-between.” From beyond the grave Susie watches her family, her dad Jack (Mark Wahlberg), mum Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver), as their family structure disintegrates. They are unable to cope with Susie’s death: Jack becoming obsessed with the case whilst Abigail just wants to forget.
The winning feature of this film was the cast. Ronan is a terrific young actress with a great future ahead of her. She perfectly embodied the character of Susie, a teenager who has overcome her separation and desire for revenge. Ronan should be have been nominated for Oscar for her heartbreaking performance. Tucci is also worthy of comment with his sinister yet realistic performance and shows what serial killers are really like; strange but unexpecting individuals.
In supporting roles, Wahlberg is on the road to rehabilitation in this film and Weisz shows again that she is a great actress. Even Susan Sarandon was good despite having one of the weakest roles in the film.
Jackson had to mix two different styles of filmmaking. One was a down-to-earth drama that focused on a family falling apart after the worst event imaginable, with a crime thriller added to it. The second is a grand metaphysical tale of Susie who is unhappy in a perfect world and wanting to gain revenge despite the fact she is dead. The family element falls under sympathetic drama, but the hunt for Susie’s killer makes it part intriguing thriller. The narration by Ronan gives this type of story a fresh twist. Jackson keeps a fast pace and knows where his focus should be.
But there is a problem with the tone of the film: it needed to be a lot darker. Jackson plays it too safe making the film PG-13 when he should have made it R (or equivalent rating elsewhere). In the novel Susie was raped: of course it would be cinematic suicide to show a 14-year-old girl being raped, but it could have been hinted at in the film. The camera could have been in the room when Mr. Harvey delivers the fatal blow. Even the script had moments of real darkness that Jackson saw fit to cut out of the final film.
Jackson also cut important plot points that were in the novel and the screenplay, stuff that drives the story. Although this version of the film does fit together nicely there is a real need for a extended cut.
Finally, the film was always going to suffer a problem about how to portray Heaven. Hell is easy to do because people share the same primal fears but everyone has a different view to what a perfect world would be like. In the novel Heaven was smaller, more intimate and lonely. But Jackson saw fit to make Heaven a massive CGI world, making Susie’s heaven too grand.
The Lovely Bones
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Alice Sebold (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Steven thought: ” An indistinctive stew of genres best describes Peter Jackson and Co.’s attempt at adapting the Alice Sebold novel The Lovely Bones. Part murder mystery, part family drama and part Salvador Dali painting, the film suffers an epic identity crisis which it hopes to mask by drowning you in evocative symbolism.The surrealism quality and dual nature of the film keep it from achieving its metaphoric and symbolic goals with regards to death and moving on. Despite superb direction and visual effects, the elements are not seamless enough, try as Jackson might to link scenes together constantly. Emotional symbolism can never fully replace logic and the In-Between is presented to us without any clarity of rules. The Lovely Bones should have been a moving family story, not a scattered piece of art with family elements.” Rating: 5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8/10