“The Lovely Bones”, a film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, gives a new twist on the thriller genre. It’s a change from the most recent films by director, Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), as well as actors Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) and Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener). The leading roles are played by young actress Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) who has received an Academy Award Nomination for best supporting role.
Set in 1973 Pennsylvania, the story revolves around 14 year old Susie Salmon (Ronan) who, as we discover early on, is murdered on her way home from school by neighbourhood loner, George Harvey (Tucci). After a sequence of confusion and disturbing scenes, Susie finds herself in a mystical fantasy world, referred to as “my Heaven” by her and “the in-between” by her little brother.
In this place, she is torn between her desire of vengeance against her murderer, and her desire to heal the family she left behind and move on. She also realises that her desires are felt by her family back on earth. As Susie watches them from above, a girl also resident in this afterlife, Holly, tells her that she has to move on and that once she does, things will sort themselves out. We then follow Susie’s family (parents played by Wahlberg and Weisz) as they attempt to deal with their loss. Meanwhile Harvey lives on and Susie has to decide whether she can move on, or put her family in danger in the name of vengeance.
It’s clear that Jackson had fun in making this film: on location in his native New Zealand, his team have created some beautiful landscapes for the afterlife sequences, which seem to morph into each other seamlessly, giving a very fantastical feel. To say that these sequences were aesthetically pleasing would be an understatement. The direction and acting is top class, credited by Tucci’s Oscar nomination as the murderer. He was as sly, creepy and disgusting — as you could want a child molesting murderer to be. Ronan’s portrayal of a murdered, innocent school girl in heaven was great too; a full range of emotion was on show.
The only thing letting this film down was the story. As an all out thriller, this could be great. However, the added twist of a supernatural afterlife merely confused matters. Susie’s connection with her family through realities was never explained; the story with her and her almost-boyfriend was unnecessary (this part of the story is more prominent in the novel); how she ended up in the afterlife world was a given and also not explained. As a fan of theology, this portrayal of a “personal heaven”, which seems perfect but really wasn’t, was a falling point: if all “nice” people end up there, what might happen to Harvey for example? However, this is more of a personal failing.
It seemed that the story never really headed anywhere and, although sections were technically very beautiful, it didn’t really grab my imagination too much. The ending sentence, addressed to the audience, “I wish you all happy and long lives” pretty much finished it off. The fact that most conversations coming out of the theatre were about the lady who fell over on the way out, as opposed to the film itself, tells a lot about it.
The Lovely Bones = 6/10