Note: Once again I can’t comment on how it compares to the book, so all comments should be taken with a pinch of salt for those that have. I did however take M to see it – who had read the book – and she commented that it was close to the book in terms of mood and what changes they had made seemed to make more sense as a film, of course YMMV.
The Lovely Bones has become a poster child for the “almost film” – one that seems to have been forgotten about at the last moment due to scheduling changes, release date interference from the studio and the big blue behemoth that was Avatar. Any other year this would have been a major release, now it feels as if it’s been slipped in between the scheduling cracks, which is a great pity because here we have a handsomely shot, beautifully acted character film containing an astonishing performance (albeit one that is not comfortable to watch).
The film feels like a smaller personnel project than a literary adaptation for Jackson (here working on a far smaller budget than recently), but this works in his favour instead focussing on the more mundane aspects of the story – the family coming to terms with the murder of their child – rather than the fantasy afterlife that the main character inhabits. The technical challenge as a director here is realising the seventies in all of their glory (another recent trend in films, both The Box and Zodiac treating the decade as a period setting as well) rather than pushing the boundaries of technology (although the afterlife is beautifully realised on the limited budget). In tone it feels more like Heavenly Creatures than anything he’s recently produced, although lacking the harder edge of that film.
Apart from one aspect of the film, the aspect that raises it from a “should try to see” to “must see” – the performance of Stanly Tucci.
The first thing is that he’s unrecognisable as the child killer hiding a more damaged past than we first realise, meaning that you never think “Oh, it’s him”. The second is the reason that he’s unrecognisable, it soon becomes clear that despite the slight sentimentality of the rest of the film, Tucci is inhabiting is own grimly realist drama about a child murderer and the reasons that he does what he does. One scene near the start of the film is far more grisly than anything else in Jackson’s career as the aftermath of the crime is visualized as a series of dirty marks on the bathroom floor. Another views the crime itself, falling short of showing it and realising that the audience can imagine even worse than could be shown on screen. After the film it is this performance that is what you remember.
There is much to recommend in the film and it’s a shame that it’s been lost in scheduling woes. Six months ago this would have had a far higher profile but everything seems to be suffering in the wake of Avatar to find time in the schedule.