Flawed but occasionally fascinating “Bones”
There’s a scene in “The Lovely Bones” where Lindsey (Rose McIver) is about to discover evidence that will condemn the assailant of her murdered sister Susie (Saoirse Ronan). It’s the film’s most tense moment, and the tension is heightened because of where Lindsey finds it and because of her proximity to the killer.
In these few dramatic moments, “The Lovely Bones” is riveting and clearly understands what kind of movie it is. Unfortunately, this film adaptation has too many themes it attempts to connect and struggles to successfully navigate the popular book’s complexity.
This is one of those films in which an audience’s reaction is impossible to predict. Director Peter Jackson goes back to his roots (“Heavenly Creatures”) to the time before hobbits and huge gorillas made him a household name, and “The Lovely Bones” gets points for being ambitious and never boring. And many people will find the disjointed journey more than satisfying.
But what kind of film is it?
On certain levels it is a murder mystery, with a terrific villain (Stanley Tucci), but his character is pretty thinly drawn and his identity is practically spelled out from the beginning.
Then again, Susie’s travails in the afterlife have an existential quality to them (think “What Dreams May Come” meets “Ghost”) and feature some stunning scenes of massive ships-in-a-bottle crashing on vast shorelines, luminous lighthouses, and hilly, golden meadows. It’s not really clear what her intentions are here, though it is hinted at that she’s in some type of limbo herself, needing closure, attempting to contact her loved ones while they in turn have a hard time letting her go.
Susie’s father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), wallowing in guilt, is determined to find her killer which leads to scenes typical of a crime drama. Susie’s mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) can’t cope and leaves for a long period. The family dynamics are not well fleshed-out, so the film misses an opportunity to be grounded in the emotional impact such a heinous murder-creepily staged but not nearly as horrific as detailed in the book-would have on a suburban family from a peaceful neighborhood.
Murder mystery, existential exploration, family drama, with doses of light comedy throughout, “The Lovely Bones” is all of these… and less. The sum of the parts of this film, while tantalizing and worth a watch, leave the viewer like its lead character, lacking closure.
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, and sexual content.