The Lovely Bones (2009)


(director/writer: Peter Jackson; screenwriters: based on the novel by Alice Sebold/Fran Walsh/Philippa Boyens; cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; editor: Jabez Olssen; music: Brian Eno; cast: Mark Wahlberg (Jack Salmon), Rachel Weisz (Abigail Salmon), Susan Sarandon (Grandma Lynn), Stanley Tucci (George Harvey), Michael Imperioli (Len Fenerman), Saoirse Ronan (Susie Salmon), Rose McIver (Lindsey Salmon), Christian Thomas Ashdale (Buckley Salmon), Carolyn Dando (Ruth), Reece Ritchie (Ray Singh), Thomas McCarthy (Principal Caden), Nikki SooHoo (Holly); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Pete Jackson/Ms. Walsh/Carolynne Cunningham/Aimée Peyronnet; Paramount Pictures; 2009)
“The uneven telling of this unpleasant story, with a sentimental message about overcoming grief and obsession, ranges from being sometimes moving to being sometimes absurd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson (“Heavenly Creatures”/”King Kong”/”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”), cowriting the screenplay with his frequent collaborators Fran Walsh (Jackson’s wife) and Philippa Boyens, returns to his early day splatter roots after going big time as a Hollywood blockbuster CGI director, to direct this worst case parental nightmare child murder story. It’s based on Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestselling New Age gothic tale of a rape-murder-dismemberment (the book includes rape, which the film never mentions) and its aftermath. It’s narrated in a whisper-like voice from beyond-the-grave by its curious feisty 14-year-old victim, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Irish actress). The uneven telling of this unpleasant story, with a sentimental message about overcoming grief and obsession, ranges from being sometimes moving to being sometimes absurd.

The safe suburban world of Norristown, Pa, comes under attack on 12/6/1973 for the Salmon family when their sweet, never been kissed, 14-year-old daughter Susie is lured down a rabbit hole in their neighborhood cornfield that her creepy middle-aged serial-killer solitary-living green house neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) presents as a new clubhouse he built for the neighborhood children but becomes a gruesome death chamber for the innocent vic–whose body is never found, only her knit hat and her blood in the field.

The gist of this grizzly film (where the rape and murder are thankfully never shown) revolves around Susie getting used to her new cool afterlife digs, an arty detailed string of overblown digital delights that include colorful swirling skies, undulating barleyfields, roses blooming under a frozen lake, misty forests, and a cosmic gazebo from which Susie observes her family trying to cope with loss and the murderer’s activities as he goes undetected.

Susie touches base with her grieving parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) and her concerned older sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and younger brother (Thomas Ashdale) from the limbo state of an afterlife (where she refuses to go onto heaven like the other vics of the serial killer until she feels reassured that she no longer has to be concerned about the tragic past). Also in the family picture is the cheerful boozy loose-tongued grandma (Susan Sarandon), around for comic relief, who tries to encourage her reserved granddaughter to go for broke to get her first kiss from heartthrob effete poetry loving schoolmate Ray (Reece Ritchie). Meanwhile we split time watching Susie’s experience in the “in-between” world and as a ghost in the real world she left behind, with most of the attention paid to the perverse killer sweating it out alone as he gets away for years with his crimes and Susie’s reactions to being dead.

Jackson’s adaptation seconds the book’s consoling belief for those grieving a tragic loss, by reassuring them as convincingly as a minister would that there’s an idealistic sentient afterlife to look forward to. Susie gets closure in the third act to leave her state of limbo and drift toward heaven when she accepts her fate that there is a world without her being in it and that she’s trapped forever in a perfect state outside of time (like being in a snow globe, which was used early on as the film’s metaphor for the other world).

I found the glossy afterlife scenes truly lovely and the performance by Ronan most touching, but “Bones” appealed to me more as a well-crafted visual delight (even a technical marvel) than a tragic story that touched my heart. It left me in a state of limbo of what to make of such an endeavor, which could be viewed as an inconsequential film that never quite worked as either a supernatural ghost tale, a teenage melodrama, a family drama, or a serial-killer tale. It never quite pulled me into the depths of its child murder story and the societal trappings lurking in the background, as a masterpiece like Fritz Lang’s M did. Instead “Bones” left me dazzled by its goofy but beautiful artistic afterlife images but, at the same time, it left me not pleased that these fantasy cartoonish scenes counteracted the film’s essential grounded tragic mood with a ridiculous artificial sense of merriment.


REVIEWED ON 12/23/2009 GRADE: B-