Oscar winners bring story of death and discovery to the big screen
Upon first glance, “The Lovely Bones” is a tragic story about having something taken from you. In the movie based on the popular teen novel by Alice Sebold, the protagonist Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) loses everything when she is murdered at the age of fourteen.
By taking a closer look, though, it becomes clear that Susie’s story is one of discovery. After her death, Susie becomes trapped in the “in-between” – the magical land between Heaven and Earth where she must find the courage to let go of her life and accept her death, allowing herself as well as her family to heal.
Unfortunately, director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lovely Bones” fails to match the quality of the novel. Through her writing, Sebold creates a poetic world wedged between heaven and earth that is, until now, unknown to mankind. In Jackson’s film version, Sebold’s creation is clumsily transformed into a surreal fantasyland.
The fact that Jackson has been out of the spotlight for nearly five years after 2005’s hit film, “King Kong,” may have something to do with the poor transition from novel to screenplay. In addition, the movie’s release date was pushed back several times (originally it was supposed to be released in December 2008, then March 2009, now January 2010) which may have given its audience a sense of hope that the film would be out of this world. Sadly for Jackson and fans of the novel, the film did not live up to its hype, although it was not a complete failure either.
“The Lovely Bones” is narrated by Susie after she was murdered by her perverted neighbor, Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who now haunts her entire neighborhood. From the “in-between,” Susie watches as her family falls apart in the wake of her death; she witnesses her parents being torn apart in her absence, her mother leaving home to forget the past, and her father’s obsessed longing to solve the mystery of his daughter’s death.
Ronan, the Oscar-nominated star of 2007’s “Antonement,” did an excellent job at portraying 14-year-old Susie. She is obsessed with the lives that are continuing without her, constantly watching over her home and hoping that her father (Mark Wahlberg) will soon discover the secret behind her death– that her neighbor raped, murdered, and dismembered her body.
Aside from Ronan, Wahlberg is the only other actor who fully dives into his role in the film. His character, Jack Salmon, ambitiously searches for his daughter’s killer and stops at nothing to solve the mystery.
Abigail Salmon (Rachel Weisz) is possibly the least passionate character in the film. Weisz, despite being an Oscar-winning actress, does a poor job conveying the tragedy of a mother who just lost her 14-year-old daughter. Even the scenes where she is sobbing or reminiscing about her daughter, the audience can clearly see right through the façade she puts on.
Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, deserves an award for his role in the film. He is excellent playing the perverted neighbor and Susie’s murderer, Mr. Harvey. His voice even has the ability to send chills down the spines of the audience. Tucci’s performance, along with Ronan’s and Wahlberg’s, gave the film everything it needed to be a success.
The film could have been slightly better if played out properly. Despite the fact that Jackson’s rendition of the “in-between” was somewhat far-fetched, the rest of the movie was truly a work of art that will keep audiences on the edges of their seats. From the very beginning, Jackson builds up the suspense by not allowing the audience to get a clear image of the killer’s face until Susie herself is face-to-face with the man in the cornfield. He also gives tiny clues away throughout the film, which can only be noticed by those who know the story well.
While Jackson’s version of “The Lovely Bones” may never quite reach the level of awe of Sebold’s novel, he has successfully touched upon her ability to create a world in which one can exist in the afterlife. Though his version of the “in-between” differs slightly from Sebold’s, the film as a whole was a success. Had there never been a book, the film probably would not receive nearly as much criticism as it has. Jackson has done a fair job at turning, what seemed to be, an entirely spiritual world into a reality.
Laura Masino can be reached at email@example.com.