Director Peter Jackson has, in the past several years, basically conquered Hollywood. He’s made some of the highest-grossing films of all time, including an 11-hour fantasy epic. His last 4 films have won a combined total of 20 Academy Awards and over $3 billion. Yet somehow, Peter cannot direct a cohesive story on a family torn apart by tragedy. Not to say that his latest film, ‘The Lovely Bones’, isn’t excellent in several areas, and incredibly moving in some scenes. It just seems like a film divided in two, one half of which is a gritty drama about forgiveness and the other half a spaced-out, candy-colored metaphorical fantasy.
On paper, that sounds like an odd mix, but in context of the plot, it somewhat makes sense. The year is 1973. The Salmon family live a quiet albeit happy life in Pennsylvania, but when young Susie Salmon is murdered and dismembered, that perfect existence is shattered. The film then splits into two narratives: The family trying to find the murderer to justice and ultimately cope with their loss; and Susie watching her family’s plight from a version of heaven known as ‘In Between’.
Oscar-nominated ‘Atonement’ actress Saorise Ronan plays Susie, the protagonist of the film, and she does it beautifully. Her character goes through an incredibly tragic chain of events, oddly the first of which is her death. She’s perfect in this role; displaying the emotional range necessary for such a large part. Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie’s grieving parents are merely decent, without any big major emotional scenes, they mostly serve to keep the film emotionally grounded.
There is, however, one actor in this film that isn’t just great, he’s somewhat masterful. Stanley Tucci as Susie’s murderer, George Harvey. On the surface, calm, polite and mannered, but at his core, savage and instinctive, Tucci is perfect in this part. In fact, he’s often the saving grace of the film because it’s really, really messy at times.
Its random alternating between the two narratives makes for an often messy, odd experience. The editing is oddly-paced, rapid in some scenes, then slow and delicate in others. The problem with the film is ultimately that there’s too much stuffed in here. There’s so many sub-plots and nuances here that it’s hard to keep track; the film changes tone and pace seemingly every 10 minutes: Suburban drama; teen romance; fantasy; dark crime film. There’s so much material fighting for attention here; the film just feels messy. Some parts are moving and brilliant, others fall flat on their (metaphorical) face.