Saturday, January 16, 2010

THE LOVELY BONES (2009)

Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens


Directed by Peter Jackson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 11, 2010 2:15PM



"The Lovely Bones" is the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old girl who is raped and murdered on December 6, 1973. Now, I know from this description, this doesn't sound like something many people would want to rush out to see nor like a fun way to spend over two hours and it's not. But not necessarily because of the story. The problem lies in the way this tragic drama has been presented. Peter Jackson, the famed director of the "Lord of The Rings" trilogy, has tried to use the colorful, creative fantasy world of those films on his version of this best selling novel by Alice Sebold and has come up short. Very short.

After her death, Susie (Saoirse Ronan) has not gone to heaven but she is in a place called, the in-between where it's her version of a perfect world. She watches as her family grieves for her and narrates this story. Jack (Mark Wahlberg) becomes obsessed with trying to find his daughter's murderer and in the process neglects the rest of his family. His wife, Abigail (Rachel Weisz), while also in deep pain, is trying to find a way to cope with the loss and move on with her life but her husband's behavior is hardly helping. Jack calls Abigail's mother, Lynn (Susan Sarandon), a wild living, hard drinking kind of gal, to come and help the distraught family.

The police investor, Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) appreciates and understands Mr. Salmon's passion in trying to help solve this case but advises him to let him do this job. Unable to stand being in the house any longer, Abigail runs off to California, starting a new life as a migrant worker.

Susie's murderer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) lives across the street from the Salmon family. He is cool and calm as the police question him, asking if he saw anything out of the ordinary. Mr. Harvey builds doll houses and while the Detective admires his work, he realizes he left out Susie's charm bracelet on a piece of doll furniture but manages to hide it before it could be discovered.

Jack becomes highly suspicious of George Harvey, perhaps with Susie's assistance, and is convinced that he murdered his little girl. He decides to handle him on his own. One night, Jack follows Mr. Harvey, armed with a baseball bat, in to a cornfield. He had planned to beat Mr. Harvey but instead he stumbles across a young couple. Jack startles them and thinking he is trying to attack them, the boy takes the bat and beats him with it as Mr. Harvey simply watches. Jack is hospitalized and his other daughter, Lindsey (Rose McIver) who also suspects Mr. Harvey, decides to help her father investigate and try to get some evidence.

While "The Lovely Bones" remains fairly faithful to the story on which it is based and it is visually stunning but my concerns in trying to make a film on this subject is still problematic. The book was beautifully written and told from Susie's point of view but when you try to translate what happens visually, a lot of power of the novel is lost and it's much more difficult to digest.

"The Lovely Bones" shifts in tone from a dark and ugly murder and the aftermath to a bright and colorful, fantasy afterlife and it just doesn't work as a whole. The film works best at the beginning until we get to the murder, where it slowly continues to drift in uncertain directions. I know this would be challenge for any film maker to make but I don't know if Mr. Jackson was necessarily the best choice to try and tackle this material. He was unable to achieve any real and deep emotional feeling that is certainly needed for this to work at all as a film.

Mr. Tucci, completely unrecognizable here, is very frightening and gives the best performance in the film as Mr. Harvey. Ms. Ronan is a very talented young lady and hopefully she has a big future ahead in films but Ms Weisz is absolutely wasted, given nothing meaningful to do but display variations in sobbing and sadness.

I really wanted to like "The Lovely Bones" but at the end, there was no emotional payoff. It was nice looking film but it left no deep impression. I highly recommend reading the book for a more satisfying journey.