The Lovely Bones Review

Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’, based on the bestselling novel by Alice Sebold is at times suspenseful, often stunningly beautiful, and ultimately fizzles out, mainly in its third act. Peter Jackson’s films generally are interesting, but sometimes it seems as if he’s meandering around with an image here or an idea there and never really can seem to make up his mind of what he’s trying to say.


He has always been able to depict very beautiful visuals (as in the Rings trilogy, Heavenly Creatures and King Kong), but  many times the visuals are purposeless with nothing to tie the image to the story. I have long thought his movies would benefit from a better editor, one that has the guts to pare some of the pointless moments and to better tie together the scenes that are vital to the story.


The film, in a nutshell, is about a young girl named Susie Salmon(Saoirse Ronan) who is murdered and ends up lingering between Heaven and Earth, because she’s not ready to move on yet. Her family begins to unravel after her disappearance and she stays behind mainly to help her father (and family) cope.


The father is obsessed with finding closure to what happened to his daughter after she doesn’t show up one evening for supper. The mother kind of just runs away from home, not being able to accept the situation.


Ronan does a good job in the lead. She does whatever she’s asked by the director, who puts her in situations that range from quirky to horrid. I think it would have helped her performance a bit more if Jackson had focused more on the darker aspect of the story. Showing that she was in such a great place kind of takes any conflict out of her situation. I think she has a penchant for depicting melancholy and I think this would have been a stronger movie if there had been fewer smiles and ‘happy’ moments throughout.

The biggest drawback in her performance is that I never believed her to be dumb enough to have fallen for the pedophile’s bizarre-o scheme that he concocts to kill her.

Ronan has to carry the bulk of the movie, being the protagonist (sort of), the victim, the narrator.  She’s a pretty good younger actress who seems to be on  pretty good career track having already been in movies like Atonement and City of Ember. She even already has an Oscar Nomination if you care about that sort of thing. Jackson lovingly fims the actress and at times appears to have used FX to highlight her blue eyes.


Mark Wahlberg plays Suzie’s father and is believable in the part as he always seems to be.  Wahlberg never ‘mails it in’ and for me has the same level of believablity of actors like Ed Harris and Scott Glenn. At times this story appears to be about Wahlberg’s character and his missing daughter’s relationship, but Jackson seemed to get bored with that and would switch to something else periodically. Wahlberg’s character arc gets lost in a couple of story killing subplots towards the end.


Rachel Weisz is mostly wasted, being relegated to background status in the film. She even goes away for a while in the film to conveniently pop back up later in the ‘big family hug’ moment of the film. I like Weisz, and wonder why they cast her to play such a banal role.

There are some elements of the film that did nothing more than to add a few more loose threads that never add up to anything like such as the obligatory weird girl who sees ghosts and the unrequited love subplot. More proof that Jackson could not find a firm point to grab onto and run with.

Director Peter Jackson:Tone Deaf.

Jackson also never seems to find a tone for this movie. At times The Lovely Bones tries to be a family film and then drops in bloody straight razors and leaves it to the viewer to fill in the blanks. It jumps from the solemn or the grotesque to scenes that recall the best of the John Hughes 80s music video montages.

There is a  montage involving Susan Sarandon that was completely out of place. And Susan Sarandon even being in this film was jarring. She seemingly plays the same part in every film she’s in (the ‘sassy’ older woman).

It has moments of outright beauty courtesy of Jackson’e FX team with spectacular landscapes and giant objects floating on sparkling ocean waves. One thing that made for a neat idea was the image of a tree where the leaves turn out to be a giant flock of green birds. The netherworld that Suzie occupies is one that mostly resembles that graphics from the Shrek films.

I think the tone of the movie could have been helped to a large degree by cutting most, if not all of the scenes involving the ‘wonderful and magical’ world that Susie was existing in. It worked best when she was observing her family or the killer in more ‘natural’ locales. A movie about a pedophile murdering a young girl and the lingering effects on her family doesn’t jibe too well with the happy frolics in Heaven or Limbo or whatever. I get the intent that Sebold was trying to get across with her story, but it just doesn’t work on film. At least it didn’t the way Jackson handled it.


I think as many times as the killer was shown observing his potential victims silently in the shadows that maybe there would have been a comparison to the girl’s state of existence.


And mild SPOILER here, but they completely take the suspense out of the scenes with the killer  George Harvey (played by Stanley Tucci). There is never any mystery about who the killer is. Concealing the killer’s identity from the victim and letting the character find out as the audience does is an old and obvious plot device, but it works.  And that Tucci plays the character as such an obviously wormy weirdo makes you wonder why it takes so long to figure out who might’ve killed Susie.

There is a moment or 2 of suspense that involve Susie’s sister Lindsey ( played by Rose McIver), who like her father has become suspicious of Tucci’s character. Overall, there is a high level of predictability throughout and the end comes almost as an afterthought. I think they realized that the movie had not built to any kind of complex, so they just through in some added details about the murderer to make him seem more menacing than he had been before. The details don’t matter and adding to his bodycount  doesn’t really add anything to the story either. There are a mass of characters that show up at the end that do more to detract from the emotional arc of the film than add to it. The villain’s end is as anticlimactic as any that I’ve seen in a while and kind of reminds me in a couple of ways of one of Jack Nicholson’s worst movies:The Pledge.

As I mentioned before there are a lot of things that never really tie together. The killer Harvey builds tediously detailed doll houses and I guess that shows his abilty to construct his ‘traps’ and ‘camouflage’ for his victims… I guess. But then there was also a little house  on the girl’s bracelet that the killer tears off and keeps. There seemed to be some motif there, but you can drop all of the symbols that you like. If the meaning of those symbols are not  readily  apparent to your audience then they have no meaning.


The fact that there are scenes where Tucci and a police officer peer at one another through one of his doll houses makes my point about not tying things together in the film. Had they used the dollhouse as a symbol as the Salmon family home, they could have had the killer and the ghost both peering in at one another to give the idea that they were both keeping a watchful eye on the family. One a malevolent eye, the other benevolent. That would have tied together with Harvey taking the house trinket from the girl’s bracelet after killing her. But, no. Perhaps that’s what they were going for, but if you never give any indication of what the dollhouse or the bracelet represents then, again, it has no meaning.

One last thing that bothered me about this film. Both Wahlberg and Tucci’s rugs were so obvious that it took me right out of the scenes that I was watching. Could’ve benefitted from a better hair and makeup person. Should’ve called Shatner’s people.

There isn’t enough in this movie that I could recommend it to anyone to watch, but it certainly isn’t the worst film that I’ve ever seen. The points it makes at the end are weak in an ‘After School Special’ kind of way. As I’ve said before, the FX are always fairly impressive and he has a great eye for visuals. It’s not his worst movie, but it’s far from his best.

This effort seemed like a job in between bigger jobs. I can’t say that I was disappointed because I wasn’t expecting much, but I do think Jackson is capable of better and has shown as much. PJ does know how to shoot a film. Perhaps, letting his editor have a little more control could help him, though.

2.5 of 5


3 Responses to “The Lovely Bones Review”

  1. Crash! Landen Says:

    Completely agree. Thanks for the info.

  2. Weisz’s role was cut in the post production of this film. She had a hell of a lot more scenes in the original cut of the film, which is too bad because the film as it is right now is pretty bad and could have used a lot more of her in it.

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