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“The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson returns for the first time since “King Kong” with a ghost story about a 14-year-old girl stuck between heaven and earth (no, not purgatory), waiting for retribution and/or closure. Nothing new in the premise and even less new on screen, “The Lovely Bones” is a disjointed film that somehow remains engaging until the end.
In the lead we have Susie Salmon “like the fish” (Saoirse Ronan). She’s 14 when she dies, but the pearly gates don’t open up for her quite yet because her killer is still out there, and in true ghost story fashion, Susie just can’t help but stick around until justice finds George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Throw in family drama, former friends from high school, and the villain on the loose and you’ve got “The Lovely Bones”, for better or for worse. Get ready for “Ghost” without the pottery scene.
Take a sigh of relief. Mark Wahlberg, as the father Jack, finally gets “The Happening” out of his system with a film role that, while not sensational, is pretty good. Sure, the father-who-can’t-get-over-the-death-of-his-daughter-so-he-begins-his-own-investigation-after-the-police-have-called-it-quits-and-his-wife-is-on-the-verge-of-leaving-him character has been done before, but, more importantly, Wahlberg is finally on camera without an obnoxious whine in his throat. And let’s not leave out the always-enjoyable Rachel Weisz, as the mother, Abigail, who, again not setting any acting records, provides an agreeable performance that begs the question, when will she do something of consequence? Susan Sarandon does a decent job in the role of Grandma Lynn, but the character is underdeveloped.
Ronan set a new standard for young actors in “Atonement” but this one sets her back. Though she’s supposed to be the lead, her time spent in the shadows doesn’t connect well to the events in reality, instead turning her story into a visually intriguing tangent.
“The Lovely Bones” is by no means an awful film but considering the director, it should have been something of real consequence. With the well-received novel it’s based on and an interesting premise (not to mention several big-name actors), everything about it feels flat, from the over-processed CGI to the scattered plot points. What’s more surprising is Jackson’s substantial background in similarly themed films like “The Frighteners” and “Heavenly Creatures”, a disturbing masterpiece that should’ve been the model for this one. Instead, the film doesn’t know if it wants to be a thriller, love story or fantasy tale. What results is a melting pot of jumbled ideas that don’t come together.
The film fails in four major ways: the beginning, the voiceover narrative, music score, and the ending. The first 20 minutes are unnecessary with superficial character development that could be assumed in later scenes. Susie’s voiceover doesn’t add anything to the film but takes away any hints of ambiguity by over-explaining everything that happens on screen. The same informational voice even tries to explain the reason behind the name of the film but by that point a “who cares” reasoning has long plagued the mind. The music score feels like a tug-of-war between Enya and “Forest Gump”, replacing thematic composition campy song choices and overly repetitive melody lines. Lastly, the ending. Without giving anything away, it’s just not satisfying and doesn’t resolve…well, most of the film.
That said, Jackson remains a brilliant filmmaker whose worst cinematic effort remains better than most other supernatural films out this past year—except the amazing “Drag Me To Hell”. Rare moments provide a similar transcendence only Middle-Earth enjoyed until now. Unfortunately those moments occur amidst a plotline that doesn’t really make sense.
“The Lovely Bones” should’ve been better, but this film endangers Jackson’s reputation as one of the best filmmakers of our time. Just like the in-between, it moves between cliché and fascinating. Really, it seems like Jackson was just bored with this one.
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