There are mild spoilers ahead if you know absolutely nothing at all about The Lovely Bones….“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973”
It is fair to say that there isn’t a director who has found such success over recent years as Peter Jackson. His dog-eared determination to make the Lord Of The Rings trilogy has written him into the history of filmmaking forever, and the box office success of King Kong cemented his position in the elite club of truly successful filmmakers.
Making a marked departure from the genre he is now so associated with, Jackson has moved on from Middle Earth and has, in some ways, returned to a style we first saw in Heavenly Creatures in his adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.
Set in 70s small town America, The Lovely Bones is the story of Susie Salmon, your average 14-year-old high school student who is ruthlessly raped and murdered by her unassuming neighbour Mr. Harvey. As Susie ascends to the in-between (the place between heaven and earth) she watches over her family as her death slowly begins to rip them apart, and over her killer who seems to elude the justice he deserves.
Book to movie adaptations are never easy and if there was a pair of hands for this book to fall into it surely could not have gone to anybody better than Peter Jackson and his partner in crime Fran Walsh. They have taken the main theme of the book and created a new dimension for it to exist in without losing the feelings of loss, anger, love and heartbreak that weave through the pages of the novel. Which after reading over the summer, has firmly become one of my favourite books.
Saying that, however, the film itself plays very loosely with the narrative and timelines of the book, and big chunks and characters are missing, something which I think takes away from the film somewhat. And if you have read the book you may feel slightly cheated and, in some parts, frustrated at the loss of the wider story.
In reality, though, there is only so much you can do with an adaptation and this movie is more like a child of the book than the book itself.
Casting for such a delicate story would always be difficult but Jackson seems to have hit the nail on the head with the ensemble cast he has put together. Lead by relative new comer Saoirse Ronan as Susie, who plays the role with an innocence that can only be described as heavenly, her family is made up of Mark Walhberg, who puts in a stellar performance as the grief stricken father who refuses to give up on finding out the truth of his daughter’s death, Rachael Weisz, who I felt was chronically underused as Susie’s mother, and Susan Sarandon as Grandma Lyn the chain-smoking, whiskey drinking matriarch of the family who breathes life into the Salmon home after Susie’s passing.
They are supported by a fine ensemble cast including The Soprano’s Michael Imperioli as Detective Len Fenerman who, after the death of Susie, becomes almost another member of the family.
It is, however, Stanley Tucci in the role of Mr. Harvey that really stays with you long after you have left the cinema. His portrayal of the sick and twisted killer is more unnerving because, for the majority of the time, he is just a concerned neighbour, the façade of normality covering the monster underneath. If I was a betting person, I would suggest putting a couple of pounds on him for best supporting actor at the Oscars this year, as it would be criminal for him not to win.
Visually is where the film really comes to life and Jackson has not let the audience down with his stunning visual interpretation of Susie’s heaven. From lush cornfields to effervescent waterfalls to the beauty of misty mountain peaks, each scene represents the state of mind Susie is in at the time and reflects her emotions, especially those of being taken away from her family so traumatically.
In my favourite scene, Susie walks along a beach and the ships in bottles that her father and she used to make together float along in the sea and slowly break and wash up on shore as back on Earth her father smashes the bottles in grief. It is a stunning and emotional representation and the scope is breathtaking.
The Lovely Bones could fall under the label of soul affirming, that something exists after this life and that is the feeling you get after reading the book, which has been transferred to this film.
Ultimately heartbreaking, it backs up the theory that no matter what, love, the love you have for your family and the love you carry throughout life, never fades and that gives way to hope and in Susie’s words, “I wish you all a long and happy life.”