Before he became the Oscar-winning director of the box office blockbuster “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson made an exceptional little film called “Heavenly Creatures,” starring future Oscar winner Kate Winslet. If anything, it proved that he could create an intimate cinematic experience as effortlessly as he was able to craft special-effects fantasies.
Unfortunately, with his film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s highly regarded novel “The Lovely Bones,” it’s clear that Jackson has lost some perspective.
Set in the 1970s, “The Lovely Bones” is narrated by 14-year-old Susie (Saoirse Ronan), who was murdered by neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). The story follows her as she navigates her way to heaven. Part of getting there involves letting go of her surviving family and potential boyfriend Ray (Reece Ritchie), all of whom are devastated by the loss. Susie’s parents Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) each react differently to the tragedy. Jack obsesses over the murder and wants to become an active participant in the investigation, becoming a nuisance to Detective Fenerman (Michael Imperioli). Abigail basically shuts down, eventually temporarily leaving the family to become a migrant worker. Her departure brings the one spark of life to the story, with the arrival of hard-living Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon, who is a much-needed breath of fresh air and a source of momentary comic relief).
Ultimately, the movie functions as a supernatural murder mystery, with a few highly charged moments of suspense. One in particular, involving Susie’s sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) snooping in Harvey’s house and discovering an incriminating piece of evidence, is especially effectual.
But there are a multitude of problems with the film. The book’s devoted legions are already up in arms over the movie, particularly the way in which Susie’s murder is handled. And the acting is all over the place. Have there ever been two more miscast actors than Wahlberg and Weisz? The special effects feel like castoffs from “What Dreams May Come.” While it’s admirable that Jackson would want to take on such a project, he might be better off with an author whose work is more suited to him, such as Tolkien.