March 14, 2010

Bone of Contention

After the LOTR trilogy and King Kong, I thought a screen adaptation of The Lovely Bones was an odd choice for Academy Award winner Peter Jackson. I had read the book, liked it so much that I bought my own copy then changed my mind about it and donated it to the library. But I watched the movie to see what he would do with it. I saw what the attraction was: a murder mystery with a chance to show some grisly bits which we know Mr. Jackson loves. (The director wisely showed restraint and spared us the gruesome details of the crime.) And he also gets to create a dazzling otherworldly place between heaven and earth from which murdered girl Susie Salmon (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) watches her family and friends deal with her passing.

I felt every minute of its 135 minute running time. The rape-murder investigation led by Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) felt haphazard. Why the cops didn't immediately suspect the sinister George Harvey (Stanley Tucci in a bravura performance), I have no idea. We know Mr. Jackson can make a thriller, and yet scenes of the serial killer felt drawn out for maximum tension using slow motion and close-ups. Because of the film's heavy plot, a boozy, chain-smoking Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon) was there to provide some levity. The screenplay was a little kinder to Rachel Weisz's Abigail Salmon than the book. Mark Wahlberg was a stand-out however as the grieving father Jack Salmon.

Yes, the "In-Between" world was magnificent and ethereal. In some ways, it reminded me of the surreal landscapes we saw in another film about death, What Dreams May Come. As a whodunit, it floundered. I had forgotten what eventually happened to Mr. Harvey. I actually laughed out loud when I saw his fate...probably not a good thing. The film probably would have succeeded if it focused more on the human drama. And that's why I have a bone to pick with the filmmakers.

(photo from Atomic Popcorn)


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