Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer(s): Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Cinemtography: Andrew Lesnie
Original Score: Brian Eno
Running Time: 135 Mins.
Many novels are deemed unfilmable, and with good reason, there is something about some ideas the written word, and fundamentally your imagination, that cannot transfer to film even with the most skilled group of film-makers behind, and in front of, the lens. Hell if Peter Jackson crafted a masterpiece of a trilogy from The Lord of the Rings surely Alice Seybold’s The Lovely Bones, a story of a young girl, Susie Salmon (Ronan), murdered and left stuck in the “in-between” watching over her grieving parents (Weisz and Wahlberg), would be a piece of cake to both adapt, for Ring’s screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and to bring vividly to life for Jackson himself. Especially given it has echoes of his earlier work in Heavenly Creatures and, in the depiction of the in-between, material ripe for Jackson’s fantastical eye for visuals. Add to this an affecting score by Brian Eno and a cast chock full of potentially great actors, Weisz, Ronan, Sarandon, Tucci and yes even Mark Wahlberg is capable of greatness, to which begs the question … where did it all go wrong?
It is hard to know where to begin, because The Lovely Bones is NOT an awful film, I don’t think Peter Jackson is capable of such a film, more it is a confused and rather messy selection of films, one that aims high but falls all the harder for it upon its failings. Independent scenes are directed with the usual elegance, the camera already in motion as we cut to the action meaning Jackson uses the camera in his usual and accomplished way. Great performances are evoked from many, some unsurprising like Tucci, suitably unnerving in a non-pantomime way, and Ronan, showing her role in Atonement was no fluke, while others are more surprising, Wahlberg most notably gives the film its much-needed heart and shows he is able to act with subtlety and refrain from talking to plants, his portrait of a grieving father is as moving as any.
Sadly for as many good performances there are some equally poor ones, this is something that stems from the films overall lack of focus, unable to decide whether it is a murder mystery, teen romance, family drama, or portrait of the afterlife The Lovely Bones sits between stalls both tonally and structurally. This means that many characters are left paddling water with little to no character development, and while those that are good do what they can with limited screen time ,the weaker cast members are not so much bad, as badly served, by some of the worst editing I have ever witnessed in a big budget film.
We cut from night to day, bedroom to street, conversation to action with no sense of time or place, the physical problem of place could be forgiven if the tone weren’t so unsure which means we go from grieving father who has lost his 15-year-old daughter to a murderous paedophile to a ridiculous comedy montage with Sarandon as the drunken chain-smoking grandmother ateempting to look after the remaining Salmon children that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Mrs. Doubtfire, to a tense sequence of cat and mouse in the house of the murderer (Tucci), and once again all this without the horribly realised fantasy sequences set in the “in-between” where Ronan’s Susie Salmon spends the majority of the film.
Anyone’s idea of how to bring these sequences to life from the description given in the book was always going to be, shall we say, unique, the problem with unique is that it either tends to be uniquely good or uniquely bad, sadly in this case there is a serious misfires, there is a certain ethereal quality to one of two of the ideas and those scenes where Susie slips into the “real” world do work suggesting that were Jackson to have focused more on this aspect the film could have been both more focused and therefore satisfying. Visual flourishes like those on display here seem at odds with the subtlety of the emotion that the story is crying out for, never at any point did I feel my heart-strings tugged at, or a tear in my eye, these kind of emotions should be a given in a film that is dealing with child murder and grief on this scale!
What is most disappointing though is that there is an overwhelming sense that Jackson is as good a director as ever and within the lovely bones are two, maybe three great films that have been edited to within an inch of their life, starring some actors at the top of their game, sadly all these films have been inexplicably hacked together along with some of the poorest cut and paste CGI this side of The Mummy Returns, it is in this lack of focus that King Kong, Jackson’s last film, suffered. A little more discipline next time please Peter!
The Lovely Bones feels like a selection of films, some great, some awful, that have been so poorly hacked together you will be tearing your hair out at how a great director has misfired so badly, not unwatchable so much as deeply frustrating at its inconsistency!