The Lovely Bones is Peter Jackson's adaptation of the novel of the same name. It centers around 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a girl who dreams of being a wildlife photographer and has a crush on a boy at her high school, until she is brutally murdered by a neighbor. She then gets stuck in a world between Heaven and Earth where she's forced to watch her family struggle without her.
Meanwhile, back on Earth! Susie's parents, Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and Jack (Mark Wahlberg) try to maintain some sense of normality for the sake of their remaining children but have trouble doing so, especially Jack. Detective Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) is assigned to Susie's case, but it becomes apparent fairly early on that the case isn't going very well, despite Jack's frantic efforts.
The portion of the movie that takes place on Earth, i.e. the search for the killer, is the highlight of the movie. It's all done with masterful suspense and tension, made even better by the fact that we know from the start neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) is the one responsible. After all, we witnessed it happen in one of the most haunting scenes from recent memory. "Nail-biting" doesn't seem to do it justice. When we watch little Susie Salmon climb into a small, candle-lit room with the unbearably creepy George Harvey, we run the risk of chomping our fingertips off.
Again, it all benefits from knowing the outcome beforehand. Unless you're going into the movie completely blind (which you aren't if you're reading this), you know that Susie gets killed and you probably know who was responsible. It's all shown in the trailer. But these aren't spoilers. This is not intended to be a whodunit. Mysteries are wonderful, of course. But there's no better recipe for tension than knowing that a grim act is going to play out without knowing the when.
Immense credit must be given to Stanley Tucci. The manner in which he absorbs his role is creepy in itself. While the tagline for Superman was "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly," the tagline for The Lovely Bones could've been "You'll believe a man can serial kill." It's an amazing feat of acting. Special mention should also go to 16-year-old Saorise Ronan who has been in less than a dozen movies to date, but deserves to be in a lot more.
Now, on with the bad. The scenes in the "in-between" feel like little more than a reason for Peter Jackson to show off his visual effects talent. They do serve a purpose, as one half of the plot is about Susie not letting go and watching over her family, but they never feel anywhere near as important as they should be. Not to mention the dazzling effects and the scenes of Susie gallivanting around in apparent bliss are violently jarring in contrast to the movie's somber tone. The scenes with the family do such a wonderful job of pulling you in and then the scenes with Susie throw you back out.
The Lovely Bones isn't great, but despite its one major flaw, it's still an effective thriller - part of the time. If we just got less fancy imagery and more Tucci it could've been something great.
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