By JP Chapman | January 15, 2010
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay) Alice Sebold (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Michael Imperioli
Music: Brian Eno
At the time that I write this, it’s been over three days since I had the opportunity to watch The Lovely Bones. Over the last three days, I’ve been wrestling with the film, thinking about its performances, and ultimately really trying to like it. Unfortunately; after dwelling on it, I’m still coming away with my initial feeling upon walking out of the theater–disappointment. It’s not that this is a movie that goes wrong at every turn; it’s simply a movie that carries with it a lack of being genuine. Like with Lord of the Rings before it, Jackson has tackled another book revered by its fans. Sadly, for audiences this time around, his film misses the high bar set before it by his previous work.
Based on Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Lovely Bones follows the life of the Salmon family in 1970’s suburban Pennsylvania. A family of two girls and one boy, and led by loving parents (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), life is happy and mostly carefree until, as the previews will tell you, a male loner of a neighbor named George Harvey, (Stanley Tucci) lures 14-yr-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) into a “fort” he has dug in a nearby cornfield. Although Jackson spares us from any harsh visuals, Susie is raped and murdered by Harvey, who all too expertly eliminates any evidence that could tie him back to the incident. It is at this point that the film takes a leap into the surreal, as we bounce between the grieving Salmon family and Susie’s new existence in the afterlife. In a space seemingly between heaven and earth, Susie is able to observe her family, and hopefully guide them towards learning the truth of her disappearance.
Much of my hesitation towards Bones, centers around this time spent in what we are led to believe may be heaven for Susie. Sebold’s and Jackson’s concept of the afterlife doesn’t bother me, but Jackson’s art direction and executions of its depiction do. In what seems to be an attempt to capture a dream-like, fantasy world, Jackson leans heavily on CGI and other effects to create what would be most 14-yr-old girls’ idea of heaven; complete with rainbows, animals, open fields, etc. Knowing this was part of the plot, I expected Jackson’s talented team at the Weta Workshop to make this an unforgettable section of the film. After witnessing their work, the team at Weta should be ashamed. I can surmise what Jackson was trying to accomplish, but much of this fantastic world takes on a cheapened, inorganic look that pulls away from the mystery and beauty intended to originate from it. As this is such a huge/integral part of the movie and story, it adds a careless feeling to these segments (and not in a good way). Adding insult to injury, this was also the first time that I walked away from one of Jackson’s films feeling like he and wife Fran Walsh should have sought outside help with their screenplay. While the talented cast is able to keep the film moving along, much of the dialogue and pacing of the screenplay seem like a step back from the mastery Jackson has displayed previously.
In spite of these large shortcomings, the cast of Lovely Bones does manage to deliver where the film needs it, turning the movie into something still worthwhile. Led by the powerhouse performance of Stanley Tucci as Harvey, even typically hit or miss Mark Wahlberg does a good job of carrying his role as the Salmon patriarch. Solid performances from Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Imperioli, and Susan Sarandon run throughout, but Tucci truly steals the show, as his haunting eyes and uncomfortably long looks at little Susie remain in your subconscious well after viewing the film. I liked Tucci before, but gain an entirely new level of respect for his acting ability after this performance.
The Lovely Bones has an inventive and original story, a phenomenal cast, but also, to its detriment—Peter Jackson. Maybe I expect too much from him now, but I am sad to say that this will be my least favorite Peter Jackson work thus far.