The Lovely Bones – the new film from Peter Jackson’s childish imagination

THE LOVELY BONES (12a) **(*)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Imperioli
Director: Peter Jackson
Running Time: 135 minutes

Fourteen year old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is raped and murdered and views the consequences of this brutal act on her family from some a kind of purgatory unable to move on until things are cleared up on Earth.

They say:

“The Lovely Bones does a fantastic job with revered, complex source material. As terrific on terra firma as it is audacious in its astral plane, it is doubtful we’ll see a more imaginative, courageous film in 2010”. Empire Magazine

“The Lovely Bones is hampered by Wahlberg’s inability to convey genuine emotion”. Liverpool Echo

“The Lovely Bones is [Jackson’s] most mature, self-assured and visually dazzling release”. The Sun

“You wanna know what purgatory feels like? Sit through all two-plus hours of this lurid mush and you’ll have a fair idea”. News of the World

Wolfie says:

Alice Siebold’s 2002 novel was lauded, as they say, by the critics and bought in massive quantities by the general public making it one of the great success stories of the decade. It tackled a powerful and difficult theme with imagination and set itself the ambitious target of coming to a degree of mystical as well as philosophical understanding of the consequences of bereavement with a challenging reinterpretation of life and death from a fourteen year’s perspective.

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone”.

The fourteen year old in question, the plucky, quirky and charming Susie Salmon is played quite superlatively by Saoirse Ronan who never puts a foot wrong in this poignant tale of a promising and zestful life cut short. Her Susie, on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, is quite simply the best thing on screen for the whole 135 minutes and there are, believe it or not, some other good things too.

It is still a pity though that her talent is the main redeeming feature in this, Peter Jackson’s latest adventure in the marriage of special effects and the spectacular countryside of his native New Zealand. I wondered at times if he would create a similar pastel-shaded Tolkienesque fantasy-world around a remake of Raging Bull. It is, as before with this director, a question of more is less.

He is of course masterly in many ways. The pace, suspense and visual ambition is impressive and he is served brilliantly by his cameraman, editor and design team but the central performance apart, there are few performances from the rest of the cast which rise above the level of pop video.

Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as the bereaved parents star in innumerable little cameo moments where they walk through predictable situations without any attempt at depth. We feel that little Susie had a lot more insight into their characters than we are ever shown here.

Similarly, Susan Sarandon has fun in the role of the aging hippie grandma with her capacity for whiskey and straight-talk but she is putting on a party piece and we are never allowed to see beneath her caricature.

Stanley Tucci, as the creepy murderer, is the only actor, apart from Saoirse Ronan, whose character gives us pause for thought and his scenes consistently work best in the hands of the director.

Jackson has all the skills for the terrestrial side of the film but it is when we go to what we are told is a half-way world between Heaven and Earth, that things start to get stodgy and more than a little bit sugary as Peter Jackson lets his actually rather literal imagination go wild. This purgatory is the landscape from Lord of the Rings on acid and, apart, of course from its beauty, which is undeniable and the skill of the special effects which is inevitable in a Jackson movie, it shows maybe less originality than most fourteen years’ visions of Heaven and gives us more than the odd moment of “pass the sick bucket”. Is it rude to think that maybe one day Mr Jackson might actually grow up?

So, if you are expecting the film to fulfill Alice Siebold’ s intentions, as quoted above, think again.
We never care enough about the relationships between the members of Susie’s family enough to see any of those “connections” that the novel explores. Mr Jackson lets his fancy footwork get in the way too much so the best that we can do is to mourn for little Susie ourselves and to admire the work of the very talented Saoirse Ronan and, of course, the thousands of brilliant technicians who work regularly with Mr Jackson.

Let us pray though that if we do ever wake up in Heaven or Hell that it isn’t straight out of Peter Jackson’s limited larder of visual tricks. How many holidays in New Zealand can a chap endure? I still think King Kong was his best movie – he is good at shallow and at fun but when he tries deep he comes over as, well, a fourteen year old.

2 Comments

  1. Oh dear! I saw the Guardian was reporting a number of poor reviews for it today too. I loved the book – probably won't see then film which doesn't sound nearly dark enough. Shame.

  2. I hate to put you off because there are definitely good things in the movie too but, there you go!

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