The Lovely Bones


film Saoirse Ronan co-stars with Mark Wahlberg's hair in The Lovely Bones

Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli 12A cert, gen release, 135 min

Peter Jackson misfires with this disastrously misconceived drama, writes DONALD CLARKE

NO DIRECTOR has had (for good or ill) quite such an influence on mainstream cinema over the past 10 years as Peter Jackson. Observing the box-office receipts for The Lord of the Ringsfilms and considering how those pictures opened the door for Harry Potter, you could reasonably christen the noughties the Jackson Decade.

It was, thus, grimly fitting that the Kiwi should bring the epoch to a definitive close with this near- disastrous adaptation of Alice Sebold’s hugely popular The Lovely Bones. Coming to us after a mauling from the US critics and a stuttering performance at the box office, the film joins such unlovely films as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Shipping Newsand Memoirs of a Geishato demonstrate that thumping good reads too often inspire films you’d just like to thump.

The Lovely Bonesconcerns the life and afterlife of a young girl named Susie Salmon. Played with impeccable confidence by the consistently impressive Saoirse Ronan, Susie grows up in a version of the 1970s that appears to have been generated from advertisements in contemporaneous Sunday supplements. Every garment is fresh from the box. The shaggy wigs glisten with inauthentic perfection. Mummy is gorgeous Rachel Weisz. Daddy is hunky Mark Wahlberg. Granny, in the delicious, boozy form of Susan Sarandon, oscillates between a kinder Princess Margaret and a madder Liz Taylor.

You’d think the savage rape and murder of the protagonist (albeit committed off-screen) might dampen the amphetamine-crisp mood.

Not entirely. Mummy and Daddy, never presented with a body, do go into an understandable tailspin: she drifts away from the family; he obsessively hunts the (he vainly hopes) kidnapper. Susie, on the other hand, finds herself in a drippy version of heaven (or limbo) where she gambols with other murdered children and calmly observes events on earth. There are, the film suggests, upsides to premature annihilation.

There is plenty to object to here. Some of the casting is deeply peculiar. Wahlberg, in particular, is so out of his depth that, for large stretches of the film, little of him is visible bar a tuft of damp hair. Stuck in her magic kingdom for most of the story, Ronan is forced to deliver vast swathes of poisonously uncinematic voice-over. And what’s up with Wahlberg’s investigations? He becomes obsessed with every eccentric in the area, but somehow fails to notice the archetypal maniac living right across the street.

Stanley Tucci, who plays the murderer, is a fine actor, but even he is rendered ridiculous by a costume – bad glasses, bad anorak, bad comb-over – that suggests the child molester in a 1970s public information film. All that’s missing is a basket of puppies.

The most glaring, unavoidable problems, however, relate to the in-between world that claims the murdered Susie. Put simply, it looks absolutely horrible. Part Enya video, part Athena poster, the environment does, it is true, suggest heaven (or whatever) as a teenage girl might imagine it. Most viewers over the age of 14 will, however, find the lurid seascapes, Tellytubby meadows and fourth-form surrealism positively nauseating. We are constantly being asked to feel Spielbergian wonder, but the only real marvel is that nobody told Jackson to reconsider his glaring aesthetic misjudgements.

You do, I suppose, have to admit that the film features some impressive craft from stalwarts of the entertainment industry. Wahlberg aside, the actors all do their best, and the selection of vintage Brian Eno tunes suits the deadened atmosphere nicely. But The Lovely Bonesstands as a terrible warning that disaster sits at the elbow of even the most successful movie director. Heed this, Jim Cameron.