Refreshing to see a period (early 70’s) flick that relies only on props, fashion and speech with no TV news montages, shouts-out to topical issues or drenching the soundtrack in pop hits of the time. Unfortunately that’s the only thing refreshing about this movie, in which Peter Jackson seems to be Taking Himself Seriously and not having any fun anymore. He’s got himself a serious, dark dramatic novel and damned if he’s going to do anything to dilute it with his own manic energy and kooky camera angles. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be pleasing anyone, not the reviewers, not the fans of the book sitting near me who complained that the film turns the rapist/murderer into just a murderer (though Stanley Tucci gets a rapist-mustache so I thought it was implied) and not me, who wished I was tired enough to fall asleep through the interminable digital “heaven” scenes in which Saoirse Ronan from Atonement pulls faces (surprise! sadness! delight! ennui!) while the sky turns colors, tree leaves turn into a flock of birds, mountains part, gazebos crumble, fields turn into swamp and other murdered girls throw a picnic. Sometimes she tells us “it’s so beautiful,” which failed to convince me that it actually was. I dug the Super Mario Galaxy-looking planet effects, but Jackson’s swirly heavenly skies seemed significantly less beautiful than every single shot in the A Single Man trailer, which I’m gonna punch myself if I end up missing. The real sadness, sadder than the death scenes and the grieving parent scenes (The Sweet Hereafter or In The Bedroom this ain’t), was that nothing happened in the heaven scenes. They weren’t beautiful or terrible. Saoirse didn’t do anything, the eskimo girl she befriends didn’t do anything, nothing happened at all. Okay, so she touched the hand of creepy loner girl Amanda Michalka causing Ronan’s almost-boyfriend Reece Ritchie to kiss her, and she made dad Marky Mark (not half as convincing on his obsessed search for the truth as Jake G. in Zodiac) see flickering candle reflections and dead roses bloom.
For all its dragged-out length, certain parts seem too skimpy, like mom Rachel Weisz skipping town to pick fruit in California while working through her grief. Susan Sarandon has fun as hard-drinkin’ gramma in the movie’s only comic relief. It’s little sister Rose McIver who gets the best scene, pure tension as she breaks into the killer’s house searching for (and finding) evidence before making her narrow escape. Second-best would be Tucci’s random demise, year(s)? later trying to pick up a girl in a parking lot he’s hit by a supernatural icicle and tumbles horribly down a cliff, Jackson’s cartoonish gruesomeness making a late appearance in the PG-13 movie. PG-13 is how it felt overall, not through lack of swearing or smoking (Sarandon does) or blood or sex but lack of anything challenging. I got the early speech about obsession and hobbies, the parallels between Marky/Saoirse and Marky/Tucci, the snow-globe penguin in his perfect isolated world, and the goofy director cameo in a camera shop but didn’t get any sense of wonder or sadness from what’s supposed to be a splendorous film about mourning, just some pretty pictures.
Reverse Shot calls the movie “profoundly disingenuous,” accusing Jackson of being primarily interested in Tucci’s killer, not the victim and her family. Also: “Even Jackson’s celebrated CGI wizardry feels off; his color-saturated vision of the afterlife has all the visual dexterity and emotional weight of an iTunes screensaver.”