*Disclaimer: Don’t worry; this article won’t be as long as the Halloween feature. 😉 And, as with succeeding reviews in the site, this film will be reviewed on its own terms (separate from the book).
Peter Jackson misses with this one. While he still delivers a visually stunning movie, he falls short with story and plot in his latest work, The Lovely Bones. Based on the bestseller by Alice Sebold, the movie tells the story of 14 year-old Susie Salmon (played by Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan), who gets murdered in 1973 by their neighbor, George Harvey (an Oscar nominated performance by Stanley Tucci). The film deals with Susie’s family moving on with the tragedy, while Susie watches over them in her own personal heaven, while trying to influence her father (Mark Wahlberg) to find out who’s responsible for the murder. But, like I said in the beginning, Jackson misses the boat with this film.
To be fair to Peter Jackson, he doesn’t need the exotic locales of Middle-earth (New Zealand) or Skull Island (from King Kong) to deliver a visually stunning film. From the colorful costumes and seasons of 1973 suburbia, to the portrayal of Susie Salmon’s personal heaven, Jackson provides enough eye-candy for his viewers.
Secondly, the performances of the leads, Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci, are worth mentioning. Saoirse’s performance of Susie makes you fall in love with the character with her charm, her innocence, etc., while Tucci’s portrayal of the quiet George Harvey is genuinely frightening in moments, especially when he was about to kill Susie. You fall in love with Susie the moments before her murder, and that’s what makes the event truly painful: that a young, innocent, and really good girl would be murdered in cold blood (I’ve heard that the novel is more graphic in the depiction as Susie was raped and dismembered). The audience will really feel the loss of the character. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t deliver.
Plot wise, the film was quite weak. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent narrative after the murder as much of the remaining time was devoted to Susie and her time in her personal heaven. Some snippets of the familial troubles after the murder was quite underdeveloped and the subplot of Susie’s father finding out the person responsible for the murder ended up as a cheat: Jack Salmon’s realization that George Harvey was Susie’s killer wasn’t portrayed well. It actually felt like a cheat; all of a sudden, because of Susie’s otherworldly “intervention”, Jack knew who the killer is. Just like that. And if there’s something I learned when giving the conflict a resolution, a deus ex machina is a big no-no. Sure, eventually Susie’s younger sister eventually gives enough evidence against Harvey, but again, it came too fast. Too many things are just happening in the film that many plot conflicts are given unsatisfying resolutions.
As a recap, the film excels visually and in the performances of the lead actors. The script, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Peter Jackson disappoints in this one.
The Verdict: Download the film. Better yet, get a copy of the book.