Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009) – Review

The Lovely Bones is an amazing and terrible film. First the good news: the film features good performances from Rachel Weisz, Susan Saradon and Rose McIver, great performances from Saoirse Ronan (who is one of the best young actors) and Stanley Tucci. Their performances carry the film and engage the audience and are among the best of the year. Director Peter Jackson is able to shoot a number of scenes that work well. Maybe the best of the film happen back to back – the scene in which Ray asks Susie out in front of her locker, followed by the scene in which she is lured into the death trap in the corn field by Mr. Harvey. The scene in which Lindsey finds the evidence linking Mr. Harvey to the death of Susie in his house is also well done. These moments in the film are thrilling, or heartfelt, or whichever emotion Jackson wants the viewer to feel. The scene in the underground trap between Susie and Mr. Harvey will find the audience squirming in their seats do to the overwhelming feeling of uneasiness at what is about to happen, while the locker scene will have a smile on their faces – this is the work of a fine director, being able to dictate emotion. Jackson along with D.P. Andrew Lesnie create some beautiful, stimulating and wondrous photography in the “beyond” sequences. These sequences represent Jackson attempting to do something quite hard – tell a narrative and dictate emotion purely through images, which is immediately undermined by a completely unnecessary and infuriating voiceover by Susie spelling out what the images are already saying. The score by Brian Eno does work well to create the mood of the story Jackson wanted to tell. The bad news: as just mentioned, the V.O. narration is terrible, not in its execution by the actor, but in it inclusion in the film (one can only speculate if it was added by the studio or if Jackson really did not see that it completely corrodes his narrative structure). The narrative itself is not fully fleshed out in parts making the film seem to have an out of whack timeline, pointless subplots and overall weak editing and writing (leaving one to suspect again whether the film was badly hampered by studio interference, based solely on the fine work Jackson normally does).  The narrative of the film is disjointed and the interaction between the beyond and the real world conflict, not working together, even hurting each other. The film feels like is would work better as either an abstract piece shown primarily through Susie’s perspective from the beyond told through her journey – the images and the symbolism left to tell the story (or at least their interpretation  by the audience), and the film does try to do that, but it does not work well in its current state as it is cut against the scenes back on the plain of the living, or as a straightforward drama, character piece about the family dealing with her death and finally discovering the fiendish Mr. Harvey, with some interaction with Susie (like the flickering candle), but no beyond shots. The combination of the two (as it is now) has one destroying the other. The audience is trapped either trying to committee to Susie’s journey embarking and basking in the beauty and surreal nature of the beyond or frantically trying to connect with the characters, story and drama back in the Salmon house. Mark Wahlberg is not very good in the film, whether it is his poor acting or his performance destroyed by the structure is up for debate.  It is really just too bad, because there is so much potential for a terrific film, but all that is there is The Lovely Bones, a disordered mess. 6/10

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