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After 14-year-old Susie (Saorsie Ronan) from suburban Pennsylvania is murdered by a neighbour, she tells the story from Heaven, watching the lives of the people around her like her parents (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) and her younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver). Her killer, George Harvey (Stanly Tucci) remains at large and undetected, although suspicions are raised - and he remains a threat, especially to Lindsey.

Review by Louise Keller:
Letting go and learning how to cope are the central themes of Peter Jackson's haunting drama that uses fantasy to illustrate a magical and enticing afterlife. Like his choice of casting in Heavenly Creatures, Jackson has chosen a star of tomorrow as his leading lady. It's not the first time she has impressed and 15 year old Saoirse Ronan leaves a lasting impression as the young girl murdered before experiencing her first kiss and who is trapped in an in-between horizon beyond heaven. The film is a mix of genres: murder mystery, family drama, romance, ghost story and fantasy, all melded seamlessly together by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens' adroit adaptation and Jackson's skilful direction. It grabs you by the shirt tails, delivers shocks and surprises and paints an effective and often thrilling juxtaposition of the real world beside an uplifting and perfect one beyond the grave.

Murder changes everything, we hear, especially when Ronan's Susie Salmon announces her own demise in an eerie narration reminiscent of that of Glenn Close in Reversal of Fortune. It is not long after her hard-drinking, fun loving Grandma (Susan Sarandon, wonderful) predicts a long and happy life for her: 'wrong as usual,' notes Susie. One simple thing like a piece of paper fluttering in the breeze across the cornfields after school starts a chain of events that affects many lives - nine in fact. Among them, there's Mark Wahlberg's devoted father Jack, obsessed by boat-in-bottle scale models ('If you start something, you finish it') and Rachel Weisz' loving mother Abigail whose notion of moving on is opposite to her husband's. Rose McIver impresses as Susie's younger sister Lindsey, Reece Ritchie is well cast as the handsome poetry loving youth on whom Susie has a crush and Carolyn Dando memorable as the loner who sees things others don't. Stanley Tucci makes our hair stand on end as the solitary man in the tidy green house opposite, who masters the art of concealment and patience.

We oogle at Andrew Lesnie's cinematography and Jabez Olssen's editing is spot-on. Jackson's greatest achievement in this gripping film is to successfully connect the two worlds of his creation. The first is the suburban reality of an average family, complete with financial restraints, house rules, a loving relationship and the lurking dangers of society's misfits. The other is one where the shedding leaves of a tree become a flock of birds, oceans extend forever as giant ships encapsulated in bottles sail, cornfields glow in a golden haze and the light of a lighthouse symbolically searches for the whisper of absence. He uses restraint and excess in equal quantities and the result is gloriously multi-faceted rainbow that extends from the heavens to the mud and slime beneath the pot of gold.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Peter Jackson and his team - notably his writing collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens - gave themselves a mighty challenge in approaching Alice Sebold's metaphysical novel about a young girl's account of her life after life, as it were. They must have known the enormity of the risk in tackling something as delicate as this, material which is easy for readers to deal with but much harder to successfully visualise in a coherent cinematic form - and keep it engaging. They did have plenty of practice of course, when wrangling The Lord of the Rings; and while this is a very different tone and a very different sort of imagination is required, there is much in the making of the Rings that has informed this work, notably the use of landscape (real and digital) as dynamic lifter.

Heaven is pieced together rather like those dreams (mine, anyway) that morph, coalesce, ooze and shape-shift improbably, fusing disparate elements together in impossible earthly ways. But here they are relentlessly magical, beautiful, colourful and constantly surprising. I would certainly be happy to go there ....

Performances are also magical, from the gifted young Saorsie Ronan as the wistful Susie, to her traumatised parents - Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz are terrific together - to the strikingly handsome Reece Ritchie as Ray Singh, the first boyfriend Susie almost has, and Rose McIver as her sister. Susan Sarandon delivers a well honed (and often well oiled) mother in law, whose primary interest is herself. As for Stanley Tucci, he carves himself a place in cinema history with this role as George Harvey, superbly aided by wardrobe and production design; his house rings perfectly true - and is exactly what you don't expect with its neat, dreary suburban hollowness, and his awful, drab cardigans, which hide a twisted heart.

If I have a criticism it's that the narration that begins and runs through much of the film presents the story from Susie's point of view; but this is often abandoned, and while that is unavoidable, I think a device of additional narration might have glued it all together without disturbing the audience's connections to the world Susie creates visually and internally.

The threads of the story itself, the thriller aspect if you like, are allowed to sway in the magical wind as Jackson lets us drift on the currents of imagination. It's an ethereal if not exactly spiritual adventure, in which we can feel Jackson urging us to soar in a realm we cannot know - the nether world which can only be presented in tangible visuals on the screen. It's not your average film.

Published April 29, 2010

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(NZ/US/UK, 2009)

CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Saoirse Ronan, Rose McIver, Reece Ritchie, Nikki SooHoo, Carolyn Dando, Thomas McCarthy, Michael Imperioli, Jake Abel

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Carolynne Cunningham, Aimee Peyronnet

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (novel by Alice Sebold)


EDITOR: Javbez Olssen

MUSIC: Brian Eno


RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2009




DVD RELEASE: April 29, 2010

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