I suppose Peter Jackson's probably experiencing what James Cameron had planned to avoid when he directed the biggest movie of the year back then, and that's not to get crushed by the weight of expectations that unfortunately come around naturally. We know how the King Kong remake fared, and now The Lovely Bones which had been getting a whole lot of mixed reactions, but one which I am firmly throwing my weight behind.
It's not a bad film, and I sense that it could have been the subject matter dealing with death, reconciliation and moving on, that may not sit well with most audiences. There's no big bang special effects to wow the crowd, and neither any heavy melodramatic piece with an open and shut investigations. While the trailer had given out the entire plot, there's still this sense of dread that's permeating throughout the film, making watching it somewhat of a chore not because we know of the storyline, but because we're powerless to help the characters get through their ordeal, or to see to it that justice gets served, properly, and not in the manner it was dished out in the film. There are no easy resolutions, and it is precisely that which will likely get you riled up and think, what's Peter Jackson doing?
But it is exactly this sense of dread that makes the film stand out, and each time providing that heightened sense of danger whenever George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) is on screen. Peter Jackson seemed to relish building a number of such high tension scenes that plays on what we already know, and feeds from our worst fears and dread to propel the narrative forward, not necessitating to show us in full what the outcome of his dastardly deed toward his victim Suzie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) since there's nothing more vivid than the individual power of imagination. But that doesn't mean that Jackson doesn't take the time to show the depth of evilness of such a character, providing a glimpse of that through a really creepy string of scenes that almost guarantee will make the young ones cry (PG people), and your heart a little painful.
The scenes that Jackson dwells on, are the reaction to the loss of a valued family member, a loved one. Time is spent amply to build up the picture of a close knit and happy family whose perfect life as they know would be inexplicably shattered by the evil of man – as Suzie puts it, they were living at a time when such atrocities were unheard of, where innocence would be lost. The film highlights how individuals try to move on, with some doing so more easily than others, and those who cling on to the sliver of hope that something will be done, or an outcome will miraculously turn favourable. It's a good break for Mark Wahlberg as it seems to shy away from an action role – instead of kicking butt, he gets his butt kicked hard here – and he returns to a dramatic role that calls for strength and persistence as the head of the Salmon household.
Rachel Weisz too held her own as Suzie's mom, though I felt that her performance was split into two, the earlier one pre-Suzie murder the better of the lot since narratively she disappears midway through the movie, leaving Rose McIver to pick up where she left off as Suzie's sister Lindsey. To lighten the mood, Susan Sarandon enters at an appropriate time to pepper the film with some light hearted moments as the all smoking and drinking Grandma Lynn, the balance of reactions between both parents, and the surrogate guardian of the Salmon children.
Saoirse Ronan was excellent in Atonement, and backs that fine performance with another fine one as the protagonist narrating the story from somewhere in limbo between Heaven and Earth. She's the spectre who can peek into the human world, and have to deal with both the ghosts of her past and the evilness that continues to haunt her, and that light at the end of the tunnel she, and others, have to move toward. Like all folklore dealing with spirits, they're never quite gone so long as there's unfinished business left on earth, and I thought the finale of her story was well done, bringing resolution, and for a happy moment, an opportunity to gain back what was unfairly taken away from her, without her putting up a fighting chance.
Ultimately, it's a sad film dealing with very real human emotions about loss and the different reactions to it. People move on, and we do so for as long as our mortality dictates. In the meantime, only those who are close to you, will remember you as you disappear in a flash like the wind, memories like pictures keeping you quite alive to your loved ones while that in others start to wane. Recommended, and only if you go in not expecting a special effects extravaganza (the CG picturesque scenes are mesmerizing by the way), or an uplifting dramatic tale.