Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Lovely Bones

"I'm someone you can trust, I'm a movie producer."

A young girl watches the lives of her family and her killer continue after she's raped and murdered, trying to balance her own attachments and want for revenge against wanting her family to heal.

The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of Alice Sebold's best selling novel about grief and healing. The screenplay, penned by Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and director Peter Jackson, is one that for all that cannot make the translation to cinema makes clear it's endeavor to be faithful to most of the main points and themes of the book, which unfortunately include the ending. That endevour, however, is not a complete success, and one cannot help but feel like some important points were missed.
A relative unknown when she was offered the part, the native born (Ireland raised) Saoirse Ronan leads the cast as Susie Salmon. Ronan's strongest virtue in the film is her ability to offer a bit of grounding to predominantly virtual after-life world she spends most of the movie in. She handles her scenes without ever letting on that the computers had yet to do their magic when they were filmed. An impressive feat for such a young actress (Ronan turns 16 this April).
The scenes are visually affecting but often refuse to gel with the rest of the production, making for what can often feel like two separate movies. I would make the argument that that is not a wholly flawed feature however, given the parallel worlds the film inhabits, often simultaneously. The imaginative sequences swirl and transform, often shifting pallets fluidly and quickly to match Salmon's moods. More conventional audiences will fault the movie for what I call a cinematic gamble that payed off well. But beautiful as the may be the question lingers, is it really what was needed for the story?
The real-world counterpoints don't deliver nearly as much in the way of satisfaction. The supporting cast, led by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, and those two especially as Jack and Abigail Salmon, often miss their marks. I felt as though I never really got a chance to see them as Susie saw them, characters worthy of more than just my surface sympathy for their tragedy, as their characters individual ways of coping are more explained than embodied. Wahlberg and Weisz just can't seem to nail down their performances, while Grandma Lynn is well performed but often seems out of place.
Rising above all this however is Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, Susie's killer. Tucci is simply spell binding as the dark loner. He finds ways of getting the simplest movements to make the the audience feel uncomfortable, but does so as though it's second nature. He plays the predator with a sort of refinement, never offered the flamboyance of Hannibal Lector but putting across just as much menace.
The willingness to linger over places other adapters might have over looked -Harvey's past, Susie's sisters vigilantism- speaks to Peter Jackson's dedication. The choices made in altering the books storyline for the sake of the film are, fo rthe most part, smart ones. Certain moments that speak to the heart of the story are front and center, like Susie witnessing her sister's first kiss. Other screenwriters or Directors might have left this scene to the literary world, but this is a film about life- and overt attempts to treat it as such are all around.
That The Lovely Bones climax seems, at points, completely out of whack speaks to the accuracy the adaptation- as this is exactly how I felt about some of the novel's conclusions as well. Both seem to trip over sentiment on their way to a more reality based fair, as unsatisfying at that sometimes is. Certain scenes work for the stories metaphor for what rape does to the lives of victims, but not for the story itself.
The Lovely Bones is an ambitious undertaking in terms of production, and in those terms it succeeds. It's taught with emotional set pieces and reproduces thick tension over an over again- but can't capture the piece as a whole. It's biggest fault lays in the performances. Ronan and Tucci deliver, but the supporting cast can't seem to keep up. Peter Jackson's name has become a rather dependable one of late- but The Lovely Bones is not quite a shining example of his successes.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Atonement: Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an academy award for this wrenching drama.
Julie & Julia: Tucci gives a beautiful performance as the supportive Paul Child.
The Departed: A great movie and easily Mark Wahlberg's most enjoyable performance.
The Fountain: Rachel Weisz in another FX driven tale of mourning.

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