Her name is Susie Salmon, like the fish... If you've read Alice Sebold's wonderful novel of the same name then these words will stick in your head. From the outset Sebold drags you in, forcing you to feel a connection with her protagonist. The journey is emotional, at times heartbreaking, but a sense of the magical keeps the story from crushing you.
Susie Salmon (Ronan) was 14-years-old when she was brutally murdered, by a man she knew. Unable to make the transition from earth to heaven, Susie seems to be stuck in limbo, or "the in-between" as her little brother likes to call it, aching for some sort of resolution. From above, she watches her family fall apart as a result of her disappearance – some consumed by the need for revenge, some unable to accept that she is not coming back. She also watches her murderer go about his daily life in the same neighbourhood as her family, covering his tracks, avoiding suspicion and dreaming of his next victim.
On earth Jack Salmon (Wahlberg) wants answers, answers that Detective Len Fenerman (Imperioli) just can't give him. Why is there no evidence? Will Susie's killer ever be caught? And where is the justice? His wife Abigail (Weisz) instead shuts off, becoming more and more distant by the day, while their young son Buckley (Allen) struggles to come to terms with the enormity of what has happened. Older sister Lindsey (McIver) is on her dad's side, however. She wants justice for Susie and isn't prepared to let fear or the law get in her way. And then there's Grandma Lynn (Sarandon), who drinks too much, smokes too much, wears too much make-up and is generally a bit useless around the house, but for the fact that she seems to hold them all together, where sanity is concerned.
Where Sebold succeeded in balancing 'The Lovely Bones', acclaimed director Peter Jackson has let it down slightly. Over-reliant on big production, the splendour of Susie's 'half-way-heaven' detracts massively from her story, which is a huge shame considering Saoirse Ronan's wonderful interpretation of the character.
There's always a danger when you love a book that you will be disappointed by a failure to be completely faithful to that story, to those characters and to the simplicity of their story, on a page. That's why this adaptation is not bad, merely too different for a book-lover's comfort. The words of the novel are often powerful enough to conjure up a number of emotions, from fear to sorrow, and, disappointingly, that range of emotions aren't always present in the movie. At times, there's a lack of urgency about the plot and a lack of rawness about the portrayals of anger and the need for retribution.
On positives, and there are also many, the aforementioned Saoirse Ronan, yet again, proves that she is an actress of tremendous ability, especially considering her years. Susan Sarandon also nails the wonderfully colourful character of chain-smoking Grandma Lynn. But it is Stanley Tucci who excels here, as the creepy child-killer Mr Harvey, complete with nervous twitches and far too much malice for viewing comfort.