04 January 2010

Review: "The Lovely Bones"

Peter Jackson is mostly known for directing the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy (including Best Picture and Best Director wins for Return of the King), but few people have seen Heavenly Creatures (featuring Kate Winslet in her first film role). Like that film, The Lovely Bones is a haunting dramatic film about life and death centred around a young teenage girl. I was very excited for this film because it stars two wonderful actresses, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon. The Lovely Bones was supposed to be released on December 11 and after a flurry of poor to mixed reviews it was pushed back to January 15, 2010. The film, adapted from a best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, tells the story of a fourteen year-old girl in 1973 who is murdered by a neighbour. The Lovely Bones stars Saoirse Ronan (whose role in Atonement has made me dislike her ever since), Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as her grieving parents, Susan Sarandon as her grandmother, and Stanley Tucci as her killer.

Susie Salmon (Ronan) is a fourteen year-old girl who is murdered by her creepy neighbour, George Harvey. Her body is never found and there is no proof that she has been killed. The audience knows she is dead, as we see her living in the in between, where she waits before going to heaven. Her parents are devastated, and while Jack (Wahlberg) is obsessed with finding the truth, Abigail (Weisz) becomes so numb from the pain that she can barely function. Jack invites his mother-in-law (Sarandon) to live with them in an attempt to keep a home for Susie's two younger siblings. Jack begins to look at people differently, and eventually wonders if George was responsible. Susie's sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) notices George one day and feels a sense of dread that leads to the film's climax. Throughout the film we see Susie in the afterlife, trying to communicate and connect with friends and family. She is trapped knowing her family is in so much pain without knowing the truth.

The Lovely Bones is a disturbing story and though I have not read the novel I feel that the film shied away from many of the most crucial elements. Susie was apparently raped and murdered by George, and yet this whole scene is represented by Susie running away from George, though in reality she is only running towards the light. There is a secondary story about Susie and a boy, and it does not work in the film because it is too underdeveloped. Susie's own version of heaven, the in between, is not as visually spectacular as I wanted. The only difference between her world and reality is the bright colours. The film also shows Mark Wahlberg's limitations as an actor, and the film lacked the necessary heartache from Susie's family members. Ryan Gosling was originally cast and left the film because he thought he was too young, but I think that he would have given the film a better balance. The highlight of the film is Stanley Tucci, who is exceptional in his role. He is brilliant in his silence. Overall The Lovely Bones is not sure of itself, is it a thriller or is it an family drama? The trailer depicts the film as an intense thriller while the film unveils itself as drama about death and loss. The film needed to go further and push the boundaries, and I am not sure why Peter Jackson elected to be conventional.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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