Peter Jackson’s latest adaptation is visually stunning but feels like a cliff notes version of the novel and on its own right doesn’t go deep enough into these characters relationships and feelings to connect us as emotionally as possible with the rich material.
The story follows the path of Susie Salmon a 14 year old girl that is murdered and raped (though the film leaves that last part out for the most part) by her neighbor Mr. Harvey and we follow her in the afterlife as she watches her family cope and hopefully find a way to lead them towards her killer. A little background on my connection to the source material, when I read Alice Sebold’s novel I was blown away for the first two thirds of the book or so and was a bit disappointed with the time jump and felt like things lost a bit of steam in the end. With that said I loved the afterlife stuff and the progression of these family members as they dealt with this horrible incident. And as a person that was hoping for the film to capture those connections and be a great look into these characters lives was disappointed with the skimming the surface approach the film seems to take. We only really get to spend a good amount of time with Mr. Harvey and Susie over the course of the picture and even with them we don’t really dive too deep into their psyche. In fact, I would say Mr. Harvey is the one we get to know the most and the most fleshed out of the characters and that shouldn’t be the case, this is the family’s story.
The film actually has a really hard time finding its identity and the editing just seems to get lost in where it wants to go, who it wants to follow, and never really finds a flow. With that said though, the film was still watchable it just feels like there is a lot more to be that we don’t get to see. From reading a couple of interviews with those involved with the film it sounds like there was quite a lot of material cut, and it shows, and I really hope there is a great flick in here, hopefully Jackson does a Extended Edition of the film on Blu-ray down the line.
So what kind of film does Jackson come out with here in theaters you ask? Well he chooses to stay with Susie’s story which keeps us with her and Mr. Harvey a lot of the time and we only really get to see the Salmon’s when their actions are connected to the investigation of the murder or their interactions with Mr. Harvey. The film works as murder thriller but there is not a whole lot of mystery surrounding things as we know how the murder played out. Instead we kind of just slowly seethe as we watch Harvey avoid punishment and lurk in the shadows.
Susie’s world, or the in-between as it becomes known in the picture, is the most interesting and captivating part of the picture and is a place we don’t get enough of if you ask me. There were actually a couple of key moments I would have loved to seen in the film that didn’t show up concerning Susie’s world. I think a lot of this had to do with the tonal issues that those situations presented but there were still quite a few awe inspiring moments in the in between. Overall this is the most confident element of the picture but I still feel like the world was a tad underutilized.
The actors in the film are all good with a pair of standouts in Stanley Tucci as Mr. Harvey and Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon. Tucci is incredibly creepy, weird, and awkward as Mr. Harvey and his interactions with people are some of the best stuff in the picture. Between this and Julie and Julia he has had one of his best years and shows why he is one of the best working actors. Saoirse Ronan is also quite great as Susie Salmon and she captures the innocence of the character but has the maturity to carry the picture. I wish we could have gotten a bit more of Ronan looking into Susie’s mind and situation but what we do get she does well and she captures Susie’s wonder with the in-between when given the chance, though the character quickly becomes familiar as the film jumps forward in time rather quickly. The rest of the actors involved do fine work but none of them have quite a lot to do as previous mentioned. Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play the parents and the affectively get their grief across though I would have liked to have felt that Wahlberg’s obsession over the murder a bit more but again this might have been an editorial issue more than anything. Weisz also doesn’t get a lot of screen time to work with but she makes the most of what she gets. Susan Sarandon is a bit over the top and eccentric but restrains herself to remain just enough genuine. Michael Imperioli plays the cop on the case and gets the most scenes cut from the book and is unfortunately regulated to a pretty one note performance which he does fine. The kids in the picture are also up to par, with Rose Mclver doing a nice job of maturing in the role as the sister, Lindsey, and convincingly grows over the years that pass in the film.
In the end, The Lovely Bones is a bit of a messy adaptation that I wish spread its focus around but doesn’t a decent job with the path it takes. That is the biggest problem with the picture is that it never really finds a consistent voice and direction it wants to go in and when it would be great for it to flesh out the characters and give us more reasons to care about the proceedings it skims the surface and keeps its focus on the murder mystery. With all this said, I think there is a really great movie hiding in there and I hope Jackson explores a longer version on Blu-ray at some point. Fleshing out the characters and diving more into the pain of the Salmons would give us a better understanding of their lives and give us more of a reason to care about everything that happened to them. With that said, the film is definitely watchable and pretty to look at with a couple of pretty good performances it just feels like there was a better movie left on the cutting room floor and maybe one day we will see if that is true.
The Lovely Bones is a C+