Peter Jackson’s stylish adaptation of The Lovely Bones had its gala premiere last night, as a Royal Film Performance the Odeon Leicester Square, London. The first reputable reviews come from UK critics:
Sensitively cast – Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie‚Äôs parents, Susan Sarandon as vulgar Grandma, a bewigged, bespectacled Stanley Tucci as Harvey and Atonement‚Äôs Saoirse Ronan as poor, hurting Susie ‚Äì Lovely Bones is a touching, at times distressing film. It deals with loss, grief, rage, familial breakdown and love, most of all love. But it‚Äôs also energetic and entertaining, the camera already moving whenever Jackson cuts into a scene and the horror/thriller elements given just enough fizz to recall the director‚Äôs early genre forays (minus the splatter) but not so comic book as to undercut the drama.
Likewise the emotion, Lovely Bones teetering along the thin, thin line that separates genuinely affecting from schmaltzy. How can it not, with colours popping from heavenly vistas (cornfields, lakes, mountains and more, the picture postcard views forever morphing to reflect Susie‚Äôs emotional state) and Wahlberg‚Äôs wide, earnest eyes rimmed with tears. Some will label it What Dreams May Come 2, and even those plugged in might experience a short circuit splutter come the 12-hankie denouement. But many more – the book‚Äôs fans, certainly – will exit exalted.
Jackson captures the grim essence of the novel even while compressing much of its character development and plot detail. And if the rhythm is problematic, his film-making bravado is constantly in evidence most notably in the heart-stopping scene when Lindsey breaks into Harvey‚Äôs house.
The down-to-earth sections are far more engaging than the afterlife and indeed the first 20 minutes before the murder are the film‚Äôs best. Ronan leaves a strong impression during these sequences, and they are enough to make her the film‚Äôs emotional anchor, even after the character becomes more abstract in her surreal heaven.
Tucci is a perfect foil for her winsome beauty; his chilling, complex characterisation of the serial killer earmarking him for awards attention.
And first impressions from Harry Knowles at AICN may help ease concerns about the delicate handling of the novels more gruesome passages: [SPOILERS]
At this point, my hands went up to my face. I was scared to death about what Peter Jackson was about to assault me with. You remember the killing scene in HEAVENLY CREATURES. Peter can be vicious when he wants to, and I was terrified. I literally couldn‚Äôt stomach anything approaching a graphic rape and murder of Saoirse Ronan. I was in knots. Peeking through parted fingers. Once the tension got excruciating, right as I was about to shut down and hate the screen, Peter goes impressionistic, ethereal and haunting, rather than the obvious brutal ugliness that is in the mind of every viewer at these moments.
In the book, we read about Mr Harvey‚Äôs drooling, sloppy kisses. We‚Äôre spared, thank god. Once you see Tucci‚Äôs Harvey, your mind can imagine ‚Äì and you‚Äôll hate your mind for the images it could create. Peter knows this. So he didn‚Äôt need to show the horror to you. Instead he leaves it to you, lets your stomach knot up ‚Äì and even though he doesn‚Äôt show it to you ‚Äì the knots remain. The sick sharp knife of disgust is twisted, via the emotion of the family when a knit cap in an evidence bag is plopped upon a family dinner table. They have hopes, the detective crushes them, when he mentions how much blood was found at the scene. The knife twists as the Salmon parents‚Äô eyes well up.
…This is an incredibly lovely film. From the visuals to the performances to the story-telling and film work‚Ä¶ it all goes to capture a very powerful story in a way that makes you want to hug those close to you.
After the film, my wife and I began discussing the movie. As I started talking about how much I loved Saoirse Ronan‚Äôs Susie. How vital and how alive she was ‚Äì Yoko‚Äôs eyes welled up and through blubber speak, she talked about how much she wanted to see that character grow up, and how she just thinks of everything she missed. Everything that was taken away. And I had to comfort her.
This is an incredibly powerful film, masterfully told and captured as only cinema in the hands of a consummate storyteller can tell it. LOVELY BONES will be one of the films of the year.
And from a more prestigious voice stateside, Richard Corliss, TIME:
Like Susie’s father and her murderer, Jackson builds models ‚Äî the imaginary realms of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong ‚Äî and invites children of all ages to share his obsessions. (This time, he re-created rural Pennsylvania in his native New Zealand.) Into these landscapes a filmmaker puts characters, whom he may kill off at whim; so many splatter-movie directors do just that…
There are horror-movie elements here ‚Äî imagine a suburban Psycho ‚Äî and echoes of Heavenly Creatures, Jackson’s 1994 study of a girlhood crush that blossoms into murder. But essentially this is a story of loving and mourning ‚Äî about how, with Susie gone, her family carries a tumor in its collective heart. The film is also an affecting daddy-daughter romance, pre- and postmortem. As Susie says of Mr. Harvey, “He didn’t understand how much a father could love his child.”
The plot has a few pitfalls. Jack, who fingers dozens of men as Susie’s potential abductor, takes ages to notice the strange guy across the street… But the movie is packed with privileged moments, like Susie’s glimpse, from the in-between, of her younger sister’s first kiss ‚Äî an ecstasy Susie was so close to experiencing before she entered Mr. Harvey’s lair.
(More from Corliss in comment #11 below)