Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Lovely Bones ***

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon
Stanley Tucci, Rose McIver, Nikki SooHoo, Carolyn Dando
Michael Imperioli, Thomas McCarthy, Reece Ritchie

Based on Alice Sebold's bestseller "The Lovely Bones" tells the story of Susie Salmon (Ronan) a fourteen year old girl who is raped and murdered by her neighbor George Harvey (Tucci) on December, 6, 1973.
"Back when people believed things like that didn't happen" narrates Susie from beyond the grave as the film follows the aftermath her murder has in the lives of her family and friends.
Stuck in a sort of limbo ("the blue horizon between heaven and earth" she calls it) she seeks redemption for her crime and tries to comfort her family by communicating with them.
In that way we meet her mother Abigail (a terrific, understated Weisz) who has denial issues, her father Jack (Wahlberg who had rarely been so moving),who becomes obsessed with solving the murder, sister Lindsey (McIver), little brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale) and crazy grandma Lynn (Sarandon who despite being the kind of character who always has a lit cigarette and a drink, remains compellingly watchable in the actress' hands).
Coming from an extensive special effects background Jackson once again tries to push boundaries creating Susie's personal heaven.
The results consist of majestic New Zealand vistas enhanced with computer effects which represent Susie's mood.
Jackson comes up with some clever setpieces, but there's nothing we hadn't seen before.
The most spectacular "effect" in this in-between is Ronan herself. Giving yet another breathtaking performance, the actress turns Susie into a girl next door. The kind of which you would've noticed if she went missing. She's sweet in scenes where she tries to reach out to her father (she's spectacular with Wahlberg) and punches your gut in her scenes with Tucci.
Ronan's ability to act like someone her own age seems easy to achieve, but definitely requires a special effort because child actors are always thought to be playing themselves.
Most special of all are her reactions with Reece Ritchie, who plays the guy Susie has a crush on. Her blushes are honest and real and when she escapes his kiss, but then accepts an invitation from Harvey, she doesn't become an accomplice in her own death, but acts like a girl that age would. When faced with the prospects of love she doubts herself and naturally trusts an adult more.
Whoever ended up adapting Sebold's book would've had trouble encompassing the author's rejection of the howcatchem and her delicate portrayal of grief. Jackson is no exception and sometimes he dedicates all his resources towards creating unjustified tension and police drama (Imperioli plays the detective in charge).
Scenes involving Harvey are all overwrought and storybook creepy, Tucci overdoes it by using every creepy trick in the notebook. Suspicious hairstyle, conniving mustache, weird accent, weirder walk. It's a surprise that it takes them so long to even think of him as a suspect.
But this makes sense when you think that the whole film is seen through Susie's perspective. When someone else becomes suspicious of the quiet Mr. Harvey, it's not an adult, or even a human being, but the Salmon family dog; who probably cared for Susie.
Maybe the Mr. Harvey we're seeing has nothing to do with how adults see him and Susie-being a child and all-overdoes the creep factor so that we too get to hate this man.
If this was Jackson's intention it gets lost from time to time in the war between style and substance he holds throughout the movie. "The Lovely Bones" has some serious elliptical problems and some characters act out of seeming deus ex machina.
But most of this can be forgiven for Ronan, who makes this almost heavenly.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm still hoping [foolishly] that she or Cornish will that "fifth spot". The Blind Side was just too horrible for me. I am looking forward to this, despite the mixed reviews.

Michael Parsons said...

I am now wanting to watch this as I love Ronan to bits.

Luke said...

Just saw this last night, and I gotta say - I'm not really sure why it's getting the critical drubbing it is. I kind of enjoyed the dreamy, special effects sequences. I had an unexplainable bout of sobbing for a solid half hour after the movie was done. Although I feel like I need to let it sit a bit before I make a final assessment. You make a lot of good points though.

Jose said...

I know! It's not the fourth "Lord of the Rings" but it's by no means a bad picture. I don't know what were critics expecting with it.
I too was very moved by it all and that final scene gave me the same shake the final page in the book did.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Seeing this tonight, and I honestly am super excited.