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Movie Review: The Lovely Bones (PG-13)

Arresting in Peace

Strong visuals, disjointed script in a story only for older teens and adults

By Roxana Hadadi

Peter Jackson did a fantastic job when he transformed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy from its J.R.R. Tolkien original to an Academy Award-winning, box office-topping film series. And though the director’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel “The Lovely Bones” isn’t nearly as seamless, the much-hyped film is still a genuine tearjerker, dotted with moments of crippling horror and gritty tension that make it worthwhile for parents and older fans of the book.

But don’t let the PG-13 rating slide – anyone younger than that certainly shouldn’t see the rape and murder scenes, or the emotional turmoil, or the bodies of other killed girls that “The Lovely Bones” serves up. Sebold’s novel drew this story over hundreds of pages that steeled readers against this kind of jarring plot development, but in about two and a half hours, Jackson has to make things happen quickly. And as a result, the novel’s timeline is reworked and certain scenes are either beefed up or created entirely out of the blue to make the plot’s tense moments far more terrifying – and completely unsuitable for young teens or below.

To be fair, though, who would be taking their children to see this movie, anyway? “The Lovely Bones” focuses on the death of  14-year-old  Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement”) whose rape and murder in 1973 crushes her family and those close to her. Though the crime was committed by one of her neighbors, the solitary, dollhouse-making Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) the police – led by Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli, “The Sopranos”)– are unable to get any leads in the case. As a result, Susie’s family suffers under the mystery surrounding her death, all while she watches from her own version of heaven, an in-between place before she moves on to the larger incarnation of the afterlife.

In both Sebold’s novel and Jackson’s film, Susie is a pretty ordinary girl: With an accountant father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and former Camus-reader-turned-housewife mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz,) Susie lovingly butts heads with her little sister and toddler brother. But aside from her happy home life, she also dreams of being a wildlife photographer and has a crush on a senior at her school, the English Ray Singh, who her grandmother agrees is totally cute.

But while walking through the cornfields behind her school one day on the way home, Susie is lured off-track by Mr. Harvey, who has secretly been watching her – and planning his crime – for weeks. Inviting her down into an underground room he claims to have built for neighborhood children, Mr. Harvey traps her there, raping and murdering her. Once she fails to come home, the Salmon family is thrown into disarray: Jack becomes both dazed and determined, spending hours considering who could have killed Susie, while Abigail withdraws into herself, seemingly ignoring Susie’s absence and growing angry with Jack whenever he keeps searching for her. And when Abigail can’t take the stress anymore and flees to California, the family becomes even more fractured – all as Susie watches from above.

And it’s those scenes – the ones in Susie’s heaven and with her family grieving on Earth – that are the most gripping. Jackson recreates the magic of ‘LOTR” with his depictions of Susie’s afterlife, all lush, expansive visuals that often switch from season to season. One moment, she’s walking on a cliff-studded beach, then frozen winter, then flower-heavy spring in full bloom. That doesn’t even compare, though, to the scenes where Susie and her friend in heaven, Holly, are dreaming of the lives they could have had as fashionistas and dancers, all splashed with bright colors and lost promise.

While those scenes are sometimes cheery, though, most of the time the film spends on Earth is distressingly sad. As Jack, Wahlberg is fantastic: Whether he’s facing off against Mr. Harvey or struggling with his inner demons, he mimics the kind of furiously heartfelt performances he gave in “The Departed” and “Four Brothers.” And as Mr. Harvey, Tucci is a master at fully owning the character’s chilling, disturbing qualities, and he’s undoubtedly the kind of realistic, believable villain that will stick with you long after the film is over.

Yet while Jackson does a good job painting a picture of Susie’s childhood, her family’s turmoil and the evil of Mr. Harvey, some of the film just doesn’t click, either on its own or when compared to Sebold’s source material. The novel spanned nearly 10 years, while the film condenses everything into about half of that;  there is a somewhat disjointed, stilted feel because everything is so sped-up and since this version is given a happier, somewhat more commercial happy ending.

Overall, though, the film works well as a hurricane of emotions and visuals, but only for adults or mature teenagers. The amount of blood, tension and emotional upheaval involved isn’t suitable for anyone else; if you weren’t old enough to read “The Lovely Bones” – or be in the same classroom as Susie Salmon – you shouldn’t be old enough to see it.


Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Youth in Revolt.”





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