Directors: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyle
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 135 mins
After the fiscal freedom Peter Jackson enjoyed with King Kong, he returns with this (comparatively) conservatively budgeted fantasy drama, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about a murdered young girl, Susie Salmon, who watches over her family from the heavenly ‘in between world.’ A character drama with stylistic flourishes rather than an epic CGI-fest, it proves that there is more to Jackson than Orcs and giant apes.
The biggest problem in adapting Sebold’s debut novel is the portrayal of the ‘in between world’ itself but it is a hurdle that Jackson and his team take in their strides. With a Dali-esque land of rolling hills and interchanging colours and shapes where dreams and subconscious emotions run rampant over the landscape, Jackson puts his FX skills to fantastic use. At a time where Cameron has been ‘changing the game/raising the bar’ it is refreshing to see a director for whom escapism and spectacle have been so high on the agenda in the past now placing his attentions firmly on character.
Sebold’s novel was less about the event – the murder, and rape, reference of which is omitted here – and more about the affects it had on Susie’s family and Jackson takes this same approach as her younger sister becomes the eldest sibling and her parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) struggle to keep the family unit together. But the man who had ten hours to tell his Middle-earth tale struggles to fit it all in here; the focus is more on the family unit than individuals but some characters get left underdeveloped (Weisz’s distraught mother especially) by this streamlining and with the killer’s identity known from the outset, the third act move into thriller territory (no doubt a judgement made with cinematic considerations in mind) falls a little flat.
There are some terrific performances here, though, most notably Saoirse Ronan as Susie, Susan Sarandon as the perma-smoking and housework-unfriendly grandmother who moves in to help steady the Salmon ship, and Stanley Tucci as the creepy loner up the road who’s always got one eye on the neighbourhood children. Jackson’s restraint (he does indulge himself a short background cameo mind) is admirable and effective too and his portrayal of grief and the ties that bind, while superbly performed and executed, is hampered only by a lack of narrative focus.
Jackson’s return is emphatic, his fantasy family drama moving and visually beguiling, yet a more ruthless screenwriter might have focussed the journey more.