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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

Peter Jackson is a truly talented director.  He proves himself again by making a story about a teenager who is murdered by a pedophile into a beautiful film.  The disturbing plot contrasts the bright colors and glimmering effects of the afterlife portrayed in The Lovely Bones, and it does so with style and wonder.  Still, with all of his directorial chops in play, Jackson did not hit this one out of the park, but still makes its way around the plates.

The adapted story follows a young girl named Susie, played wonderfully by the new talent Saoirse Ronan, who is killed by a pervert named George (Stanley Tucci) while walking home from school.  She is lured into a creepy den dug out of the ground in a field and while she believes she escapes, it turns out that something more sinister occurred.  She soon comes to the realization that she didn’t make it out of that cellar alive, and she spends the rest of the film in her own personal “Heaven” looking down on her grieving family who are focused on finding her killer.  Her anger about her death leads Susie to wish retribution upon her murderer and this struggle between her family’s happiness and her own revenge becomes the focus in the story.

All of the performances in the Lovely Bones are good.  Mark Wahlberg continues to prove himself as a great dramatic actor, Rachel Weisz is convincing as the grieving mother, Stanley Tucci is perfect as the sickening villain and Saoirse Ronan herself, as the lead, carries the film with grace and perfect screen-presence.  The dialogue is good, but a little shallow at times, and despite some of the weaker spoken scenes, the stars elevate the material.  The actors are definitely not the problem here.

My problem with the Lovely Bones is it seems to have spent far too much time looking pretty and not enough time focusing on the story.  This leads to some pacing problems that should be beneath a veteran talent like Peter Jackson.  Dialogue scenes seem to either drag on or leave thoughts incomplete, and some of the scenes that are designed to show off the film’s art direction just seem to hang there like a painting on the wall rather than a film on the screen.

Another big issue is the way the imagery is used to contrast the moods of the film.  The visual tone of the family’s place in life is so muted and that it feels, at times, like one of Shyamalan’s weaker movies, not like the bright majesty of a film from the mind and talent of Jackson.  The mood of the afterlife is much more like Peter Jackson, but it seems as though a lot of it was ignored.  What Dreams May Come was a lesser film than the Lovely Bones, but its depiction of Heaven was epic and wondrous, while the afterlife here is claustrophobic and small.  It reminds me of Lord of the Rings versus the first Narnia film.  Jackson’s Middle Earth was extensive.  It felt real, and huge.  Andrew Adamson’s Narnia felt like soundstage melodrama, like a soap opera in scale, never letting the environments seem too open.  The differences are astounding, and here it seems like Jackson took a note from Adamson and that was not for the better.

The Lovely Bones could have been great.  It could have been a wonderful story of grief and redemption.  However, it is held back by some weak pacing and overblown artistic choices.  A story this emotional should capture you, making you feel connected to it.  The Lovely Bones, however, seems to keep the audience at a distance.  It just feels too much like watching a movie, instead of feeling like you are experiencing a great visual story.

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