The Lovely Bones – Review

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In 1970s Pennsylvannia, fourteen year old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) lives an uneventful, comfortable, suburban family life with her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and younger brother and sister.

She’s a good girl with a very promising future.

One day, she doesn’t come back from school. Police search everywhere and find nothing. Then her hat is found. “That’s a good thing, right?” asks an optimistic Jack of the policeman who thinks the opposite.
It’s a bad thing. She’s been murdered. But her body hasn’t been found and there are no suspects.

Looking down from above, from a place between life and death – between earth and heaven – Susie watches over her family and tries to nudge them the investigation in the right direction to help them centre on the quiet neighbour, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who keeps himself to himself in his house at the end of the street.

She can’t bring herself to move on – and leave her earthly life behind her – until the loose ends surrounding her death have been tied up and her parents have come to terms with it.


Coming from Peter Jackson, it’s clear that this is going to be a visual feast – presenting the after-life – or at least its antechamber – as we’ve never seen it before – as we visit dark corners filled with death and colourful dreamscapes that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of the Tellytubbies.

But there are two key problems with this film – apart from Saoirse Ronan’s central performance, most of the cast come across as rather melodramatic – the relationships don’t quite feel as real as they need to for us to experience the right emotions. Even adding a love interest for Susie fails to strengthen our feelings – after all, brutally slaying a teenaged girl is pretty bad, whether she has a boyfriend or not. Undoubtedly the most interesting character, Susan Sarandon’s outrageous grandmother felt like she belonged in another film entirely. And Tucci’s surprisingly Oscar-nominated pantomime villain seems to be such a stereotypical suspect that it’s amazing how long it takes the finger to point to him – which brings me to the next failing of this film – the story itself seems to be riddled with holes.

When a film is based on a book – in this case Alice Sebold’s award-winning novel of the same name – it’s hard to blame film-makers for shortcomings in the plot. But maybe, there are some stories that just work better on paper than on film. Perhaps a book can allow more time for certain inconsistencies to be ironed out, while a film has to rush to the next scene, hoping – especially in a fantasy world such as this – we just accept it and move on.

But with a story that’s more contrived than it is moving and characters who don’t draw you in, grab you by the heart and make you suffer, learn and come through the pain alongside them, there’s little of interest here, besides the visuals.

The most satisfying moment in the whole film is spotting the unexpected cameo from Peter Jackson himself.

Jackson is at his best when he’s being big, wild and crazy, whether it’s Lord of the Rings or his early films such as The Frighteners or Braindead. This was perhaps a rebellion against that, trying something different, but for a director of his stature, it’s a disappointment.