Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lovely Bones ***

The Lovely Bones
*** out of ****

Peter Jackson's highly-anticipated film The Lovely Bones, based on the bestselling book (which, yes, I have read) is finally out. Once again, he shows his wonderful skills as a director: his compassion, his attention to detail, and his ability to craft an incredible story.
The plot of the book and film may alienate some people immediately, but for those who can handle heavy subjects, here it is: Susie Salmon is a young, happy teenager in 1973 who aspires to be a photographer and is on the cusp of her first kiss. Her next-door neighbor, Mr. Harvey, is a grade-A creepo who obsesses over Susie, and after lots of plotting and building an underground hangout, lures her down there alone and kills her. (We witness the events leading up to the murder, but not the event itself.) From this point, the movie splits its story: on one side, we see Susie rising to a beautiful, magical perfect world described as the "in-between." She makes friends with a fellow dead girl, who tells her she must let go of Earth to ascend to heaven. Susie decides to be loyal to her family and stay to watch over them. And as she does, so do we: the film dramatizes her family- father, mother, little sister and brother, and alcoholic grandma- coping over her disappearance and later acceptance that she was killed. Her father tries to aide the police in catching her murderer, while her mother wants to move on, eventually prompting her to move out. The sister and brother slowly grow up and learn to live with the pain, but the sister has a nagging feeling about her creepy next-door neighbor. Meanwhile, Mr. Harvey destroys all the evidence, is questioned once by the police but is never suspected of anything. He lives in solitude revelling in his genius.
For those of you who aren't scared away yet, let me assure you that the film is really a work of art. All of the acting is superb, especially Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as Susie, narrating the film with an innocent gentleness, and Stanley Tucci as Harvey, who makes the viewer want to laugh at his geeky, chirpy loner- if they weren't so terrified by him. Mark Wahlberg also turns in a solid emotional performance as the father determined to keep his daughter's memory alive and catch her killer. The film is also unusually beautiful: Susie's heaven is a gorgeous mix of the landscapes of New Zealand- where director Jackson hails from- and glittery CGI. On the Earth side, the film perfectly evokes the look and feel of the 70's. Although the tale is timeless, it's difficult to picture the story taking place at any other time period. The music is also hauntingly beautiful and appropriate. And in a film that's so rich with dramatic emotion, it's surprising to find a couple of truly suspenseful scenes, most notably when Susie's sister breaks into Mr. Harvey's house looking for evidence.
This film is getting a lot of negative reviews, which I attribute to the dark storyline which may make a lot of people uncomfortable. But luckily, by taking out all of the graphic details and avoiding discussing religion, the story is able to focus on the characters. I also believe it's an improvement from the book: while the book lost itself in sex and went on forever, the film narrows the focus to Susie and her father and expands on what exactly is in Susie's perfect world. If there is a big flaw, it's that the focus is divided between heaven and earth, and the viewer has to decide which one they like better.
Also, keep your eyes open for a cameo from Peter Jackson in the photo store and a large bookcase showcasing The Lord of the Rings novels.
I've been waiting for this movie for at least a couple of years, and I can honestly say I am satisfied with this adaptation from one of the biggest names in film. It's more than beautiful, it's lovely.
I would recommend this film to fans of dramas, fantasies, and of the book.

You can watch the trailer here:

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