Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
Directed by Peter Jackson
Running Time: 2:17
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.
The Lovely Bones was an overly long film that didn't achieve what it set out to accomplish.
Young Susie Salmon is murdered by one of her neighbors. From a place she calls the 'In-Between' she looks down upon her family, spurring them on to find her killer. At every turn, they are thwarted and soon the trail goes cold. Soon Susie starts to understand that solving her murder may not be what her family needs to heal. Instead the ability to accept her death, as tragic as it is, may be the real story that needs an ending.
I've never read the book the movie is based on, so I can't speak to how faithful it was. I do know that the book as a lot of happy followers but I'm afraid the movie won't be a good experience for them. My initial thoughts were that it was well made, with some terrific performances, but it was way too long and too much time was spent in the In-Between. Now, it's hard with a movie like this because while it's sort of a murder-mystery, the audience already knows the killer. Therefore, it gets a little annoying to watch, knowing who everyone is after and not being able to help them find him. But at least that story was interesting. Every time the movie would cut back to Susie I would immediately become bored. The In-Between was a visually beautiful place but listening to Susie's voiceover got tedious. And watching her go from place to place without any real reason didn't make sense to me.
Here's the real interesting part... after the movie, on my subway ride home, I read the production notes and suddenly I understood what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. The problem is, if I hadn't read the notes I'd still be in the dark. Apparently once she died, Susie's family was supposed to be falling apart. And yes, her mom did leave for a short time. But the rest of the family seemed to be getting along fine. There might be one shot of the dad obsessing over something, but in the next shot he'd be fine. In one shot Susie's younger brother might be sad and seeing visions of his sister, but in the next he and his grandmother are dancing in bubbles. And then towards the end, the mom comes back and everyone is happy again. Throughout all this, it's supposed to be Susie's emotions that are driving them. When she wanted vengeance, her family tried to find the killer. When she realized that they needed to heal and move on, things worked themselves out. Yet the movie didn't really get this across. Instead we watched Susie watch what was happening and I felt like she was a passive viewer as opposed to someone making things happen.
I thought the performances were all wonderful. Saoirse Ronan, who plays Susie, has already been nominated for an Oscar and will eventually win one. She was the perfect choice for this role. She's attractive, but not in the traditional sense. She's got a real warmth about her. And at the same time you could see the pure terror on her face when she realized what was about to happen to her. And speaking of that, Stanley Tucci was brilliant as Susie's killer. Tucci has the reputation of being a nice guy so when you see him transform into a psychotic killer it's very disturbing. There was always something simmering underneath his skin whenever he was on screen and it was chilling. Mark Wahlberg played the dad and luckily he didn't have a lot to say. He's a nice enough guy but when he talks I don't think much of him. Rachel Weisz played the mom and she didn't have a huge role, but she was the one character who really broke down in sadness over her daughter's death. The dad's sorrow turned into anger but the mom was sad to the point where her mom came in. Her mom was played by Susan Sarandon and she was great as well. Her character was unapologetic for her words or her actions, but she was also the only one who really understood what needed to happen. I think the real surprise in the movie was Rose McIver who played Susie's sister. She was really the one who started to figure out who the killer was and her transformation from timid younger sister to proactive detective was tremendous.
Visually the movie was well done, even if too much attention was spent on the In-Between and a lot of CGI. Yes, I understand that was Susie saw was a reflection of her own emotions and it played some part in what was happening in the real world, but it was so bright and vibrant that it took away from the dark tones of the rest of the film. It was almost jarring to go from a hunt for a killer to watching Susie frolicking in the tall grass with a new found friend. I know Peter Jackson was a fan of the book and was trying to stay as true to the story as he could, but I think more of a concentration on the family and showing more of their ordeal, rather than continually showing Susie in her world, would have helped move the story along.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed with The Lovely Bones. As I said, I never read the book but the movie was too long and focused too much on a part of the story that didn't connect with me emotionally. I have however bought the book and plan on reading it over the holidays to get a better idea of what I was supposed to see and feel.