The raw elements are there, but they do not equate to make a satisfying whole in the exceptionally acted yet clumsily crafted The Lovely Bones.
Now, any attempt to adapt Alice Sebold’s popular novel will be a hard task for any filmmaker, and kudos to Peter Jackson for giving it a shot. But in his effort to merge tense thriller, family drama, and CGI fantasy, Jackson has created a bumbling film that works well in some places, and in others drowns in an ocean of pixels.
The Lovely Bones centres on the Salmon’s, a middle class suburban family whose lives are torn apart after the brutal murder of oldest daughter Suzie (Saoirse Ronan) at the hands of unsuspecting neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Stuck in limbo, Suzie looks on as her parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) struggle with their loss, and her killer eludes capture.
With the film told through Suzie’s perspective, the young yet immensely gifted Ronan literally gives the films its soul and purpose. Yet her bravura performance is constantly squandered by an overuse of SFX wizardry, with Ronan battling for position against a digital backdrop which is used to create her own little heavenly playground, the vibrant visuals funnily enough bringing to mind Terry Gilliam’s recent morality fantasy The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, yet failing to evoke the same wonder that film had.
A question always lingered as to how Jackson will portray the afterlife, and it’s such a shame to find that while occasionally beautiful in its imagery (akin to a previous journey through heaven in What Dreams May Come, not a good thing), Jackson just does not have the right touch on this occasion to make his SFX work, with the magical often turning into the absurd, and the realistic coming across as synthetic.
Thankfully, respite is had when the film steps away from its fantastical elements and focuses on the much more interesting land of the living, which features an in form Mark Wahlberg as a father obsessed with finding his daughter’s killer, and Susan Sarandon as a pill popping grandma brought in to help bring some semblance of family to a broken home.
But it is Stanley Tucci’s spectacled predator which truly saves The Lovely Bones from breaking under the strain of its CG weight, Tucci using his vast character actor prowess to create an unnerving embodiment of evil, in a performance that would be a shoe in for a supporting Oscar if it were not for one Inglourious Basterd.
Jackson constantly finds himself at the brink of redeeming himself with a series of tense sequences that will have many squirming in their seats. Yet almost predictably comes that digital wave to wash away any potential for a stirring examination on love and loss, heaven and earth, and the darkness which rests beneath it.