Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Seabold’s popular novel is a risky endeavor—risky because the content of the story being told is largely made up of very dark and harrowingly depressing material—and to balance out such elements with an overall theme that is, while admittedly confusing, positive and meant to offer a sense of closure, takes a skilled and careful director to say the least. In attempting to make such a film, Jackson does indeed deliver, and The Lovely Bones is a tour-de-force in its presentation of the pain felt by and forever-altered lives of an otherwise ‘ideal’ family whose existence is shattered by the rape and murder of a beloved daughter.
The by far greatest piece of the movie, and that which makes this particular effort so truly powerful, is the acting. Saoirse Ronan headlines as the ill-fated Susie Salmon, the afore mentioned teenager who is stalked and brutally murdered by a neighbor—the equally compelling Stanley Tucci as George Harvey—and both actors offer excellent and memorable performances. Particuarly for Ronan—who was only thirteen years old at the outset of shooting for the film—to have pulled off such a difficult performance that required an incredibly intricate balance of melancholy and child-like wonder and joy, such heartfelt and touching acting has rarely been seen. The rest of the cast—including Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie’s parents, and Susan Sarandon, the grandmother—are suitably selected and all play their parts well in support of the true stars of the story (again, Ronan and Tucci). The film’s visuals are also a triumph, as we see Jackson creating an interesting and colorfully well-blended palette in both the ‘heaven’ areas from where Susie watches the events that follow her death unfold as well as in the real-world, everyday suburb and surrounding town where her family and killer live.
It would seem that The Lovely Bones would be a perfect film except for the at times rushed and sloppy plot development that is coupled with a confusing presentation of just what Susie is meant to accomplish during her stay in the ‘limbo-like’ place that serves as her long-term staging area before entering the ‘bigger heaven.’ Sure, she wants to see her killer brought to justice, and of course, she wants to see her family be able to move on, but the almost schizophrenic way in which she continues to interact with those still on earth—and that at often ill-placed points in the story—makes for an overall presentation that is very choppy and thus makes it difficult for viewers to connect at the deepest level with the events being portrayed.
All said and done—and flaws noted—this is one of the most interesting and heart-wrenching motion pictures to hit the big screen in a while, and the audience will come away from this viewing in a trance… deeply considering the meanings of life, the events (both good and bad) that we all experience therein, and just what happens to our souls after we leave this current phase of existence; for this, Jackson and his cast and crew are to be thanked and applauded.
Reviewer’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars