The Lovely Bones: Review
The Lovely Bones is the newest film by big-budget director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong), adapted from Alice Seebold's bestseller of the same name. The book (and the film) are narrated by 14-year old Suzie Salmon (played convincingly by Saoirse Ronan) who is brutally murdered by a serial killer, but remains connected to her life in an in-between place that is neither heaven nor earth. Her presence, which can sometimes be seen and felt by her family members and even her killer, both draws them all together even as it threatens to tear them apart. In the end, the Lovely Bones invites us to see that life is sweet, beautiful, fleeting and often tragic, death is only a beginning, justice is elusive but true and sure, and all that we can do is the best that we can with the gifts that we have been given. What has attracted a great deal of criticism is the way in which Jackson chose to interpret the story. Jackson's liberal use of CGI worlds and trippy dream-like sequences were beautiful, but in the end the story is what really mattered and the story very nearly got buried in colorful "musical numbers" and multi-million dollar computer shots.
I have to say that I was not sure how I felt about the film when the closing credits finally began to roll. The trajectory that Jackson chose for the film was unexpected. I remember seeing a pretty underrated Kevin Bacon film a few years ago called, Stir of Echoes. It, too, dealt with the murder of a young girl, whose spirit was trapped in this world until her unfinished business was completed. The Lovely Bones steers clear of that sort of thing, though, and heads into some interesting but not entirely unchartered waters. You see, in my opinion, The Lovely Bones is what happens when What Dreams May Come gets crossed with Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone (both of which began as novels like The Lovely Bones, and which were successfully translated to the screen). The result is a movie that seems to not know exactly what to do with itself. One the one hand, it is a riveting psychological drama involving the death of a young girl at the hands of a serial killer and what happens to her family as a result. But then on the other hand it spends what seems like an endless amount of screen time exploring the colorful fields and glades Suzie Salmon's "heaven."
The cast of Lovely Bones is an odd mix of veteran actors and puzzling casting choices. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) portrays the serial killer that takes Suzie's life with a disturbing intensity that is both difficult and compelling to watch. Tucci has made a living of convincing supporting roles, and this is no execption. Mark Walberg (Planet of the Apes, Max Payne), who somehow just keeps getting fairly substantial film roles, was an odd choice as Suzie's tortured obsessive father, who can't let go of his daughter's spirit. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) gives an uninspired performance as Suzie's mother, who responds to her husband's obsession by abruptly leaving her family in the lurch--an action that brings her mother into the picture. Susan Sarandon appears as the boozing, tranquilizer-abusing, "Grandma Lynn," who arrives to take care of the family in her daughter's absence. I got the impression that Sarandon's screen time was edited a bit too much, though, and the result is a performance that is jerky and bizarre.
If you are curious about the spiritual implications of The Lovely Bones... it is a movie that is filled with questions of faith. The theology that is employed to explore concepts of eternity, however, is more than a little muddled. Not surprisingly, when you try to combine Eastern mysticism with Christian traditions and New Age spirituality the result is a spiritual meta-narrative that has no real purpose or direction. There is nothing neat and orderly in this film, quite frankly, and the resolutions to the conflicts in the story will probably be more than a little dissatisfying to many viewers. Additionally, this is not a family film by any stretch of the imagination. While Jackson tactfully chose not to show the actual moment of Suzie's murder, her abduction and struggle to get free is not for younger viewers. There is also some strong language and scenes where dead bodies are depicted that could be frightening for the little ones in your life.
I give The Lovely Bones two stars. Wait until it comes out on DVD.