| Oscar winner Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong”) directs this film adaptation of the beloved 2002 best-selling novel by Alice Sebold.
This melodramatic murder mystery/revenge thriller revolves around 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan from “Atonement”) and her creepy serial killer neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci from “Julie & Julia” and “The Devil Wears Prada”).
Susie narrates the story and has a sixth sense that allows her to know what people on Earth are thinking. She must weigh her demand for vengeance toward her creepy killer against a loving desire for her immediate family to heal from this horrible tragedy. She is trapped in a surreal, otherworldly state of limbo between heaven and earth.
The Salmon family members are accountant father Jack (Mark Wahlberg from “The Departed” and “Boogie Nights”), mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz from “The Brothers Bloom” and “The Constant Gardener”), older sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and younger brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale). Grandma Lynn (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon from “Dead Man Walking” and “Bull Durham”) comes to stay with them. She is a chain-smoking alcoholic who adds comic relief, but her insertion causes an abrupt mood shift from the somber and reverential tone.
The movie alternates between family domestic happenings and following the killer in the aftermath of what is initially classified as a disappearance. The inept police investigation is headed up by detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli from “The Sopranos”).
This unsatisfying movie seems to glorify death and celebrate victimhood. Jackson goes overboard in the spectacular visual effects in the supernatural afterlife settings. Ronan puts on a fashion show with a host of outfits. These creative visual bursts detract from life in the middle-class suburban neighborhood.
The imaginative ideas from this popular literary work don’t translate well to film. The underwhelming script meanders with too many digressions. Things ultimately get tedious and it becomes difficult to stay engaged. It is hard to have any sympathy for Susie once you realize she is dead.
The scenes of the actual rape and murder are given short shrift and delayed until the end of the movie. The movie leaps into incredulity with unlikely, far-fetched situations involving Jack and Lindsey’s attempts to expose the killer.
The movie seems to lose focus and goes on too long with an excessive running time of 135 minutes. The attempts to build suspense come too late in the proceedings.
The title is explained by Susie near the conclusion. It is a reference to the members of her immediate family whose lives have gone forward in time after her hasty exit.
Acting laurels belong to Tucci as the unrepentant killer. He shows chameleon-like qualities with wild personality shifts. Ronan makes good use of her large, expressive eyes. It is only a matter of time before she becomes a big star in Hollywood. McIver is also impressive whenever she has the spotlight. Sarandon makes the biggest impact among the female cast with all the best lines. Weisz is wasted in a nothing role.
The movie’s exploration of what happens after we die and the visual landscapes in the hereafter is eerily reminiscent of “What Dreams May Come” (1998) starring Robin Williams. Due to the lack of tight editing, your best bet is to wait for the fast forward capabilities of DVD viewing in your comfortable home surroundings.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"