A 14-year old girl — Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan — is murdered by a neighbor.
The spirits of Susie Salmon and other girls killed and tortured by the same man are supposed to move on. You know, go into the light, slip into movie heaven just beyond a big tree in the middle of a wheat field.
Susie refuses to go. Her ghost hangs between heaven and earth to see the impact of her death and disappearance on the family. A young woman in town knows she’s still here, and so does her father who refuses to stop looking for her killer.
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That’s the Cliffs Notes explanation. Life and death are complex. So is life beyond death. The plot is more twisted, more sinister and not so simple. You, too, are suspended between life and afterlife. Side trips into the black heart of the killer and time spent with parents agonizing over child’s death are uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel like an unwelcome intruder.
The casting is exceptional. Ronan is a charismatic young actress with oodles of talent. Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play her parents. Susan Sarandon is grandma. And Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia) is completely creepy as the murderer.
Susie Salmon’s limbo is a critical element of a ghost story that allows director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) to hang in his favorite place: special effects heaven. He places Susie in a surreal space of beautiful flowing meadows and towering mountains with gorgeous waterfalls that are contrasted by nightmarish seas and dead, lifeless houses. His vision of her dilemma is often distracting and adds to the story’s many confusing elements.
Do you like what you see?
Can you take your eyes off the screen?
Can you stop thinking about this movie long after you leave the theater?
Yes, you will be distracted. And, yes you will be confused. There are times when Jackson doesn’t explain enough and at other times, too much.
Questions, questions, questions. Let none of this deter you. It’s still the best ghost story to come along in years.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens Friday, Jan. 15 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.