The story of a girl who is murdered and watches what comes after from a place between heaven and Earth may sound like it would be in steeped in sentimentality and cliché situations. For some scenes, it is, but Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel is an entertaining fantasy thriller.
Susie Salmon (Ronan) is a girl with an infectious love for life. At 14, Susie has started to discover the beauty the world has to offer. This idealistic view of the world is soon shattered when her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) traps her in a specially dug hole and murders her. After her death, Susie finds herself trapped in a world that is not quite Heaven and not quite Earth. From this place, she can see her family and how her death has torn them apart while her killer continues to roam freely. If her family is to ever find peace, Susie realizes they will need her help.
While “Bones” contains several Academy Award winning or nominated actors, the performances here leave a bit to be desired. Ronan’s portrayal of Susie is somewhat annoying with her wide-eyed, innocent stare. I was never able to develop a deep enough connection with her and did not feel a lot of emotion when she died. Her parents, played by Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg, give sufficient performances, and while they both are good actors, I didn’t find them believable. Susan Sarandon (whom I can’t even remember the last time was in a theatrical feature film), is one of the few who are able to give their character life. The real standout here comes from Tucci. His performance as George Harvey is every bit as creepy, despicable and horrifying as it should be. While it’s highly unlikely that he’ll win, an Academy Award nomination is thoroughly deserved.
Peter Jackson’s direction is generally solid, but his vision of heaven and the in-between worlds that Susie is stuck in are a little hokey. They are beautiful to look at, sure, but there’s really nothing there that most people wouldn’t assume Heaven would look like. There are trees where the leaves fall off and grow back instantly, and the ground has a semi-translucent feel. Susie’s afterlife and the world her family still inhabits sometimes collide to create a mixture of fantasy and reality. None of it is really bad, but it feels like more could have been done to make heaven seem like a truly amazing place rather just a surreal landscape.
The music that is sometimes implemented is a little odd. Jackson tries to lighten the mood by using a montage of pop songs and it destroys any emotional buildup the story will need. Towards the end of the film This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” plays while Susie finally meets a bunch of other women in her version of heaven. While the song is ethereal and haunting, it feels out of place. The soundtrack of this film may have been better off had they only used an instrumental score.
The best part of this film is around the last half hour, when it looks like Harvey will finally receive his comeuppance and the family will be at peace. Unfortunately, much like real life, not everything can be wrapped up into a tidy little bow and forgotten about. Seeing the lengths Susie’s sister goes through to find her sister’s killer is captivating.
Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” is not his best work, which is a disappointment. While “Bones” was expected to be a major awards contender, what we are left with is a small film that’ll please some, but disappoint most.