The Lovely Bones

Director    Peter Jackson
Starring    Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Susan Sarandon
Release    15 JAN (US) 19 FEB (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


19th February 2010

It's a big ask, translating one of the most popular books of the late 20th Century onto the big screen. Especially when said book is full of other worldly imagery and is, for the most part, narrated by a dead 14 year-old.

Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the Alice Sebold novel, and rightly so. Jackson's beautiful use of escaping horror through elaborate fantasy in 1994's Heavenly Creatures compliments this tale perfectly. Unfortunately, while the resulting film is very pretty to look at, it is in the end cold and lifeless.

Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is the eldest daughter of Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz). A creative and friendly child, Susie is experiencing her first big crush, teetering on the brink of adolescence and flirting with a career as a photographer. Brought up in a nice 1970s suburban neighbourhood, going to a nice school, and generally living a lovely nice life, it is a surprise and a terrifying one at that when Susie goes missing after film club one day and is never seen again.

[gallery]Of course there is an investigation, but the police find nothing save Susie's hat and an awful lot of blood. Eventually the trail goes cold, and everyone other than Susie's father Jack, gives up on ever finding her killer. But while they are looking, Susie is watching. After her brutal murder and 2001-esque travel to the afterlife, Susie finds herself in The Inbetween, a kind of constantly changing ethereal limbo, from which she can watch the events on Earth and come to terms with her death and her own feelings of loss before moving on.

It's a beautiful story wonderfully portrayed by all involved; Saorise Ronan is an emotional powerhouse for a 14 year-old (she should insure those ridiculously large, expressive eyes) and Stanley Tucci's neighbour George is creepy and evil, yet a total chameleon. Although in this day and age, the paedo-glasses would have been a dead giveaway.

The Salmon family are ripped apart by his actions figuratively and literally - mother Abigail, unable to deal with her daughter's death and her husband's paranoia, packs up and leaves partway through, Weisz not really involved enough to make a real impression on the film. Mark Wahlberg, a late replacement for Ryan Gosling, is just slightly off-target as Jack, Susie's devastated father. Age-wise, Wahlberg is better suited to the role, but his performance is as deep as a puddle, and he just doesn't convey the range of emotions needed for this role.

This should all add up to a better than average drama, but something about the direction is (*whisper*) hollow and ham-fisted. The imagery in The Inbetween lacks any nuance, and is technically nothing we haven't seen before. Montage scenes of Susie's grandmother Susan Sarandon wackily cleaning the house feel out of place, while the constant - albeit required - voiceover and jumping between frolicking in bubble-filled fields and Wahlberg staring at boats gives the whole film an oddly trailer-like feeling.

The tension sequences are fantastic and Jackson shines in these moments. The hideous underground crime scene plays out more in your imagination than on screen, and a 10 minute silent bum-shrinker of a scene involving Harvey and Susie's little sister will leave fingermarks in your arm rests. But these are exciting points in an often tedious whole.

The Lovely Bones is like a dream that borders on nightmare, but at least it's one that fades to a feeling of slight unease as soon as you open your eyes.

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