Monday, January 25, 2010


A life cut short

By Edward Copeland
I imagine, though we are several years removed from the Lord of the Rings movies, there remain enough obsessed Hobbitologists out there who may likely throw a hissy fit when I claim that Peter Jackson creates more stunning and remarkable imagery in his adaptation of The Lovely Bones than he did in 760 hours of the Rings trilogy.

Based on Alice Sebold's best seller, which I admittedly have not read, could easily turn treacly or depressing in its tale of a murdered 14-year-old girl (a terrific performance by Saoirse Ronan) witnessing how the lives of her family, friends and even killer progress as she wanders in a nether region she must navigate before she moves on to heaven.

Set in 1973, the period details are quite good, and not in that CGI-overkill way they were in Jackson's bloated, misguided remake of King Kong. It even includes Michael Imperioli playing a police detective with a hairstyle that makes me believe he had to have filmed this right around the time he was making the short-lived TV series Life on Mars.

The opening section of The Lovely Bones plays as an average slice-of-life about the Salmon family and it may be some of the best scenes connecting with day-to-day people that Jackson has filmed since way back in Heavenly Creatures. Oldest daughter Susie (Ronan) proves to be the family's life force, even though there is still mom and dad (Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg) and a younger sister and brother (Rose McIver, Christian Thomas Ashdale). There also is the great Susan Sarandon as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking grandmother who believes in living like a free spirit in a neverending quest to deny her real age.

Ronan proves that her Oscar-nominated work as the young Briony in Atonement was no fluke. Most of the weight of The Lovely Bones falls upon her young shoulders and she carries it with aplomb, first as a smart teen with bursting creativity and a strong crush on a boy at school and then later as an apparition, wanting to help her family heal and to see her killer punished.

The man who kills Susie is played with the appropriate amount of banality and creepiness by Stanley Tucci, though I have to admit that his eventual demise has to be one of the most ludicrous since Kubrick let Nicholson's Jack Torrance freeze to death in the maze in The Shining. Having not read Sebold's novel, I have no idea if this is a departure from the book.

Still, it's a minor criticism for an otherwise impressive film. Jackson produces impressive sequences of all shapes and sizes, from a simple sequence showing the loss of passion in a marriage over time to the fantastical imagery of giant ships in bottles crashing against the shores in Susie's limbo as her father is breaking down at home.

Having not read the novel, I didn't know quite what to expect from The Lovely Bones, fearing it might be maudlin or depressing, but instead I found it to be a worthwhile experience that held my interest from beginning to end.

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