Movie Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

Before i start this review, I feel the need to say that this film covers some very disturbing subject matter. This is a warning for those who cannot handle such subjects.

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Saiorse Ronan, Rachel Weisz

Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is not just another story about a murder. It explores how such a tragedy has a profound effect on all involved, not just the victim, but the friends, family, and yes, the murderer themselves.

Yes, this film is first and foremost about Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old who is brutally raped and murdered, but we also see the way her murder changes the lives of those who care about her most. We also get to see how it changes her. We see a father’s torment and obsession as he searches for his daughter’s killer, we see the marriage that was already on tremulous ground crumble before our eyes, and we see every stage of grief of all who were involved.

That, in my opinion, is what makes this story so unique.

We don’t follow the police in search for Susie’s murderer, We follow her father, her sister, and her friends. So, in my review, I’m going to cover the perspectives of each of these characters, starting with the father, and concluding with Susie herself.

Jack Salmon (Wahlberg), becomes obsessed with finding the man who killed his daughter. In the process, he harrasses the police with possible suspects, alienates his wife, and falls into a downward spiral that is frankly hard to watch. His devotion is both touching and worrisome. You can see the depth of love he had for his daughter with every scene, and how it strangely seems to be a detriment to his personal life and to his investigation. Wahlberg gives an excellent performance, you can see the seeds of his obsessive personality in early scenes, and, as a result, it feels like a natural progression instead of a slap in the face. And when we see him start to piece together who killed Susie after he’s made steps to move on, he’s thrown back into his obsession.

Susie’s sister, Lindsey (played by Rose McIver), also feels compelled to find out who murdered Susie. She, however, is much more subdued in her interest than her father, at least at first. We see her seemingly move on and even find a little bit of happiness, but she is suspicious of the real killer long before her father is.However, it’s only when her father shows signs of suspicion that she acts on her own feelings. She also finds herself obsessed with the killer, to the point where she risks her life to bring him to justice.

George Harvey (Tucci), is Susie’s killer. He lures her into a “clubhouse” where he rapes and murders her. (The rape is omitted from the film, but is presented in startling detail in the novel, so I’m leaving it in). In the events after the murder, he calmly resumes his regular routine, but is discouraged when he discovers that Lindsey is suspicious of him. Stanley Tucci adds depth and humanity to a role that could have easily been horrifically miscast. We see him unravel and make mistakes that could easily implicate him. And the subtle edge Tucci gives to the character is one that makes him almost sympathetic. That being said, due to his actions, I couldn’t wait to see him get what was coming to him.

Susie (Ronan), starts out in the film as a typical teenage girl. She is heavily invested in her own problems and somewhat dismissive of her parents. After the events leading to her death, however, we see that she s very reliant on her instincts. She recognizes Mr. Harvey as a killer too late for it to make a real difference, but early enough the we see her change from optimistic and friendly to horrified within seconds. That’s what makes her death in the following scene even more heartbreaking than it is. Her realization that following Mr. Harvey into his undergond clubhouse was the worst decision she could have made, and she couldn’t do anything to stop what was coming was what turned Susie into an incredibly realistic character. As we see her watch her loved ones from “the inbetween”, we see her grow and change along with them. 

Overall, I’d say that The Lovely Bones is an excellent film. Peter Jackson’s direction, along with the stunning visuals and phenomenal cast, make it incredibly memorable. But what set’s it apart for me is Alice Sebold’s story. While this changes quite a bit from the source material, mostly the order of some events and omission of certain elements, the overall plot is the same, and you get the sense that Jackson respected the novel. I can see why the changes were made (especially leaving out the rape scene), and those changes do not undermine the story. This is how all novels should be adapted.

I’d definitely recommend this film to almost anyone. It is criminally underrated, and, in my opinion, one of Peter Jackson’s best.

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