I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: I was quite a bit more excited about the prospect of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones being made into a movie when Lynne Ramsay, the Scottish visionary behind Ratcatcher and the spectacular Morvern Callar, was attached to said adaptation. Not excited enough to go out and read the novel, which is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, the victim of a horrific rape and murder. I did wonder if Ramsay would jettison the book's first-person narration, as she did with Morvern Callar, also an adaptation of a novel, and find a new way to tell the story. I wondered quite a few things. And then, for reasons never made fully clear in the trades, at least to my knowledge, Ramsay was off the project, replaced by writer/director Peter Jackson and longtime partner and co-writer Fran Walsh, and longtime co-writer Philippa Boyens. At first I rather resented this, not least because it likely meant that I was going to wait that much longer for the next Lynne Ramsay film. (Morvern Callar came out in 2002; Ramsay, it appears, is currently preparing to shoot We Need To Talk About Kevin.) As my investment in the actual source material was minimal, I didn't feel much beyond that, except, you know: Peter Jackson, whose sensibility I like and whose films a largely admire, was going to direct it, and so I was probably going to want to see it on some level. Had a studio handed it over to Joel Schumacher we wouldn't be having this conversation.
No, my frustration stems from the picture's thoroughly inconsistent tone, the way it can grab you by the throat one minute and make you throw up your hands the next. A picture that can cut from a searing depiction of a father's grief to a goofy montage of his tipsy mom moving in to "help," scored to the tune of The Hollies' "Long Cool Woman," to cite the one instance that doesn't involve dropping a major plot spoiler. The sore-thumb-like lapse in judgment is not an entirely new feature for Jackson; remember the depiction of the Skull Island natives in his King Kong, or the ill-advised soft-show with which Naomi Watts entertains the titular lug in that film? (Although Watts was so game she almost pulled it off, I have to say.) One feels rather grateful for Tolkien fanatics, if it was the fear of their wrath that kept Jackson so thoroughly focused and faithful in his Lord of the Rings telling.
First, it's a fantasy/thriller, and as the film depicts Susie's awful death, and how she sees her killer from the afterlife getting away with murder, the thriller aspect here is particularly ferocious. Bones also wants to be an intimate portrait of how a family heals, or doesn't heal, in the wake of such a terrible trauma. And a little of it wants to be an affectionate half-sendup of the American '70s. And of course there's no reason this film can't be all three. But Jackson seems incapable of mixing, or melding, his modes. Instead, it's as if the film starts, and then stops and restarts every time he wants to switch gears. He's got a lead foot on the clutch.
And more I cannot say, without giving away major parts of the film's storyline. I will note that I had many of what I call "Deuce" moments watching the film; that is, times when I felt like yelling something up at the screen. Not in a good, excited way, like "Get out of that vent you stupid motherfucker the demon is crawling right up your ass," knowing all the while that the demon's gonna catch up with whoever anyway; but in a bad, irritated way, like "What the hell is wrong with you people why aren't you calling the goddamn police RIGHT NOW!" Of course you can't do that in a screening room. After the picture's been out for a while maybe we can get into it, and we can get into my...wait for it...philosophical objection to the film, too.
Before I go, though, a word about Brian Eno's score. Again, I am frustrated, and I'm a big Eno fan. Actually, I'm frustrated on account of being a big Eno fan; viewers who aren't familiar with the guy's work are simply not going to have this problem. Which is: about one-third of the score (at least) is adapted, mashed-up, or remixed from previously-released Eno work from the '70s. Mostly. Which meant that during crucial stretches of the picture, this viewer, and a colleague who's also similarly knowledgeable, were sucked into a game of "Name That Brian Eno Tune" for much of the movie. You're supposed to be galvanized, emotionally fraught, by some on-screen violence, and instead you're thinking, "Interesting how he staggered the intro to Robert Fripp's guitar solo on 'Baby's On Fire' so that the most frenzied part would hit just as [name redacted] is getting whalloped with a baseball bat..." But as I said, the majority of viewers won't have this problem, and nice for them.