Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Lovely Bones (2010)



Plot Summary: The film centres on a young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family - and her killer - from heaven. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal.

At this stage in the game, with eleven days until the Oscar winners are announced, it’s hard to believe that The Lovely Bones was ever mooted as a heavyweight contender for the awards season. Alice Sebold’s novel was always going to be a tough piece to adapt but many believed, based on his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that Peter Jackson was up to it. However, since its release State-side the film has been savagely ripped to pieces by film critics and the general public alike and barely features among the final list of Oscar nominees. While The Lovely Bones does indulge Jackson’s weaknesses as a storyteller it is not the spectacular cinematic failure many will have you believe.

The film is set in the set in the early 70’s and the period details give a good sense of the times. Technology, clothes, hair and even colour scheme all combine to create a believable 1970’s for the events to unfold in. Jackson does not jump straight into the action either; an adequate amount of film is spent at the beginning of the film establishing Susie Salmon as a real person with whom the audience can identify with. These achievements would mean nothing, of course, if the acting were not up to scratch but thankfully each cast member brings to the table a credible performance. Relative unknown Saoirse Ronan does a good job (if at times a little overplayed) with a difficult role at such an early age and Susan Sarandon is a joy to watch, bringing some much-needed comedic relief to proceedings. Even Mark Wahlberg (who too often fails to convince) is decent as the obsessed father, unable to let go and grieve his loss.

It is, however, Stanley Tucci, as the calm and collected yet highly dangerous paedophile George Harvey, who ultimately steals the show. The afterlife sections, while sometimes slightly too obvious in their symbolism, are brilliantly rendered and really make the film look unique. When Susie is indulging her fantasies the images are shot in a spectrum of beautifully bright colours and are full of wonder. Two of the films best scenes, though, occur when Susie’s purgatory turns darker; a shocking revelation in a bloodied bathroom and later, a Gondryesque walk through the crime scenes of Harvey’s previous victims display touches of brilliance. At times, The Lovely Bones is also highly suspenseful. The scene in which Susie is captured by Harvey and when Susie’s sister sneaks into his home are both hair raisingly tense, and show a masterful command of the screen by Jackson (the former would most definitely not be improved, as many have suggested, by a more explicit depiction of her demise).

Nonetheless, The Lovely Bones does have its fair share of flaws. Probably the most apparent problem is that there is simply too much going on in the film that it never really does any of the plot strands justice. The movie is a cocktail of suspense thriller, fantasy, police procedural, family drama and serial killer film and while each of the different ingredients are dealt with well, they’re poorly edited together and never fleshed out enough. This problem goes hand in hand with Jackson’s previously mentioned directorial weakness; lack of control in terms of sentimentality and running time. These two issues threatened to ruin both Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and King Kong but with The Lovely Bones he has finally gone overboard and the film suffers for it. The ending to the film is highly drawn out, with an excruciatingly cheesy moment in which Susie is allowed back to Earth so she can finally receive her first kiss and a completely unnecessary epilogue in which Harvey meets his fate in the form of a falling icicle.

Other, unrelated failings are also present in The Lovely Bones. The film spends a good amount of time setting up the Salmon family unit that once Susie is dead its depiction of their grief is sorely lacking in comparison. Sure, the audience are giving a few fleeting moments in which we see family members crying and holding each other but we never really get a full sense of the emotional trauma that the loss of a family member can inflict. This is not helped by the sudden introduction of Grandma Lynn which, while still entertaining in itself, infringes on our emotional response to Susie’s death and seems totally off with the tone of the film up to that point. Despite these problems The Lovely Bones is still a solid and enjoyable experience; it’s just a shame Jackson couldn’t have reigned it in a little as the film we’re left with is somewhat of a missed opportunity rather than the Oscar worthy achievement it had the potential to be.

Final Verdict: 6/10.

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