From the very start The Lovely Bones was extraordinarily ambitious, the adaptation of its namesake book by Alice Sebold that reached the number 1 bestseller on the New York Times reading list. The film deals with a highly controversial tale involving perhaps the greatest taboo: child murder.
Peter Jackson, celebrated director of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, had his eye on the film rights to Sebold’s book for a long time. He first attempted to secure the rights while filming the second film in his trilogy (The Two Towers), to his dismay the rights were secured by British channel ITV. Fortunately for Jackson, the film was never made and the rights were once again available; he wasted no time in securing them.
The film centers around the murder of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old teenage girl living the American Dream with her loving and supportive family. The first portion of the film focuses around her life before her murder and the relationship she develops with an English boy named Ray Singh. Their relationship grows and they arrange a date at the local mall for a weeks time; it is a tragic irony that she is then lured into the middle of a field and murdered by the local pedophile George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). The details of the murder, graphically portrayed in the book, were toned down by Jackson, believing the sequence to be too traumatic for the young actress. None of the actual murder is shown on screen although a later sequence doesn’t leave much to the imagination. The rest of the film is narrated by the dead Suzie, looking down from her personal heaven, watching emotionally as her family grows and changes in her absence. The sequences that follow contain highly stylized CGI landscapes chronicling Suzie’s otherworldly exploits.
The film is not without its flaws and was heavily criticized receiving generally negative reception, unfairly, in my opinion. The film shifts jarringly between horrifying violence and unyielding sentimentality, making for anything but a streamlined viewing experience. The story also suffers somewhat due to the excessive use of CGI, a big mistake that made the cost the film its status as a masterpiece. Despite its many flaws there is a lot that makes this a must-see movie. The acting was superb and casting impeccable, the performance of Tucci as a serial killer was both convincing and inspired. Ronan was infinitely brilliant in her role as Suzie Salmon, conveying a maturity and emotional depth vastly beyond her years.
The portrayal of a family in crisis was the greatest achievement of the movie, the emotional and spiritual evolution of Suzie’s family, divided in her absence but ultimately drawn closer than ever. The Lovely Bones is an emotional roller-coaster, building up to an heart-breaking conclusion, both devastatingly sad and overwhelmingly beautiful at the same time. The film succeeds in creating a lasting emotional imprint, a harrowing, ethereal, timeless dissection of the human condition showcasing the potential for unspeakable evil but also a life-affirming and eternal love.
- Acting: 5/5
- Direction: 3/5
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Second Viewing Value: 3/5
- Overall: 4/5
- Saoirse Ronan landed the role of Susie Salmon based on an audition tape she had sent in. They were so impressed by the tape that no meetings or further auditions were necessary before offering her the lead role in the film.
- For his role as George Harvey, Stanley Tucci had his skin lightened, his chest and arm hair dyed to match his blondish-brown comb-over wig, and wore false teeth to alter his jaw line. He also wore blue contact lenses and a lentil-filled fat suit to widen his girth. All topped off with square-frame eyeglasses, a fake mustache and sideburns. Since Tucci was uncomfortable playing a child molester, he wanted to alter his appearance for the role as much as possible.
- In Alice Sebold’s original novel, a disturbing rape scene is recounted in great detail, an experience that Sebold herself had as a young woman. Director Peter Jackson chose to omit this section of the book, feeling that the re-enactment of the ordeal would have not just overwhelmed the film, but been too traumatic a sequence for the young Saoirse Ronan to endure.
- Peter Jackson appeared in a cameo roll as the man with a movie camera in the pharmacy when Jack Salmon picks up the prints from the first roll of Susie’s film.