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Les Misérables – Life is a barricade, old chum, come to the barricade

Jean Valjean on the run (valrun)

“Do you hear the people see?

They’re seeing the film that’s Oscar bait?

It is the film made to please people

’Though it’s only good, not great!”

Few films in recent memory have screamed Oscar-bait more than Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. When an Academy Award-winning filmmaker takes one of the world’s most beloved musicals based on one of the most powerful novels ever written and casts it with cream-of-the-crop performers, including a former Oscar host, an Oscar-winning actor and two Oscar-nominated actresses, how could it fail come February?

Well, with surprising ease, apparently. It takes quite a talent to so thoroughly slaughter this golden egg-laying musical goose, but Hooper has found a way. A masterful director of actors (check out The Damned United) who has been remarkably lucky with his script choices, never more so than for his multi-award-winning film The King’s Speech, Hooper has never been accused of having outstanding visual flair. Here, that lack of flair is downright unimaginative, and results in a lazily produced and bloated film that never manages to engage the eyes, even as it haunts and delights the ears.

Hooper’s misdirection has not been enough to block out the power of Victor Hugo’s story, or the arresting music and lyrics of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1980 musical, and Les Mis retains a certain magic.

Tony Award-winning musical performer and Wolverine Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a beleaguered Frenchman in post-Napoleonic France, starving and unable to find work due to his status as an ex-con; he has just served 19 years for stealing a single loaf of bread. Daring to start a new life, he breaks parole and creates a new identity for himself, within years becoming a successful factory owner and mayor of a provincial town. Valjean’s past catches up with him in the form of Javert (Russell Crowe), the foreman of his former chain gang, now a high-ranking police inspector who views Valjean as the one who got away, and someone whom the law must punish once more.

Valjean’s life on the run from Javert is complicated by his adoption of Cosette, a sweet urchin whose prostitute mother (Anne Hathaway) was unable to take care of her. Years later, as revolution stirs once more in the streets of Paris, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) finds herself besmitten with a young rebel named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and is soon dragged with her father into the political tumult, pursued ravenously by Javert.

Amour: Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne

Hugo’s themes of persecution and faith echo wonderfully in the film’s finer songs. Anne Hathaway sobs her way through ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, her hair shorn and her cheeks bloodied, having just sold her locks, teeth and body. Jackman belts out “Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!” as he decides to take responsibility for his actions in order to save another man. Samantha Barks, the only professional singer in the main cast, brings a mournful elegance to ‘On My Own’. Hooper’s insistence on using single-take close-ups throughout many of the numbers show off his actors’ talents well, but they are anything but cinematic, more akin to watching the big screen at a pop concert than a Hollywood musical. The only properly choreographed performance is ‘Master of the House’, a jaunty, nasty song that feels out of place in the midst of so much real drama.

Because of this, the musical numbers have no energy, and you would be forgiven for wishing Gene Kelly would burst onto the screen and roar “Gotta dance!” If only. It is not until well into the third act that the medley ‘One Day More’ properly electrifies the film, followed swiftly by the show-stopping ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’; but it’s too little too late. As the rebels set up barricades in a Parisian cul-de-sac so fake it looks like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, it’s hard to care anymore about the young lovers’ plight, let alone the attempted revolution. When the film reaches its apparent climax, there are still 20 minutes to go, although the overwhelming finale just about makes up for that drag.

Hooper’s decision to have the actors’ singing recorded live on set results in some very affecting performances that hammer the emotions through the songs; although this doesn’t always facilitate their hitting the right notes. Jackman makes a believable Valjean, but the boy from Oz rarely flexes the vocals (and not once the dance moves) that made him a Broadway darling. Russell Crowe, a rock ’n’ roll singer in his spare time, scoops his voice repeatedly to reach the notes required, but the effect is more Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! than Michael Crawford. Due as much to some of Hooper’s more incomprehensible directorial decisions as to the Gladiator star’s miscasting, Crowe only manages to capture a fragment of the obsessive, sadistic and homoerotic nature of Javert that Charles Laughton mastered in the role nearly 80 years ago.

Last Man Standing: Russell Crowe

And fragments are all this film is; pieces of a glorious story, with moments of fine acting and superb songs brought low by excessive Dutch tilts and face-hugging close-ups. Not since Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc have expensive sets been this lost, buried out of focus, behind the faces of a film’s stars.

Yet it’s still hard not to recommend Les Mis, on some level. The story is timeless and the music resplendent, and Jackman and particularly Hathaway deserve to have their performances seen and heard. The un-cinematic quality of Hooper’s interpretation may yet lead to it finding a more respecting audience on the small screen, where the careless photography and in-your-face close-ups can cause less offence.

It could be worse. It could be Nine.

3/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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2011 in review – Style, meet Substance. Substance, Style.

Now, perhaps I’m just misjudging the subtext of what I’ve read in the blogo/Twitter-sphere, but I get the impression that there is consensus that 2011 was a particularly fine year for cinema. There were definitely a lot of great films released, and compiling the list below was not easy, but was it a particularly great year?

It was certainly a standout year for American (and English-language) cinema. With some exceptions, blockbusters were smarter and tighter, and even where they failed (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) they still had ambition. Source Code led the charge for a new wave of intelligent sci-fi thrillers. Bridesmaids and 50/50 showed that American comedies could have as much heart as they had bodily fluids. Drive proved enough flair on a filmmaker’s behalf could erase any need for strong dialogue or acting – yet that film brought some great lines and fine performances nonetheless. At Cannes, The Tree of Life conquered, and around the world audiences were left mesmerised and/or walked out of the cinema.

The build-up to 2012’s The Avengers continued with two enjoyable tongue-in-cheek superhero adventures, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger; the success of both suggested the heroic team’s first outing will be one of the biggest films of this year. If rivals DC and Warner Bros wish to meet the Avengers threat head-on with a Justice League film, the critically mauled Green Lantern and a trailer for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises should ensure that no one wants to see a JL film without Christopher Nolan at the helm any time soon.

After a terrific year in 2010, children’s films hit a hurdle – only one children’s film cracked my top 20, and it was released in the US in 2010. Martin Scorsese’s beautiful but shamefully overlong Hugo deserves applause however, even if it did prove once and for all (to me at least) that 3D cannot be mastered even by the most talented of filmmakers. Nostalgic methadone The Muppets and the enjoyable Kung Fu Panda 2 (which featured superb sequences of traditional hand-drawn animation) also narrowly missed my list.

As for documentaries… well, for work-related reasons I saw more docs last year than any year previous. Unfortunately many of them are so obscure that there is no point in listing them here. But suffice to say it was a strong year for documentary from around the world, even if the interesting but unambitious Inside Job won most of the acclaim this year. Docs like Senna and Page One: Inside the New York Times told their stories with far more flair.

A few notes on the list. Traditionally I have stuck with what was released in Ireland during each individual year, meaning that some of the previous year’s late releases (especially the Oscar push) end up on the subsequent year’s list – there’s never been a way of avoiding that. To add to the confusion now, I spent almost half of 2011 living in the United States, so this list may see some films released in late 2010 in the US but early 2011 in Ireland, while others will have yet to arrive in Irish cinemas yet.

It’s fair to say I didn’t see as many new films in 2011 as I might have liked (so few bad ones indeed, that I do not have enough to fill a “worst of 2011” list), but I did see a huge number of films this year. On the big screen, just some of the classics I saw include: Walkabout, The Driver, Paisan, Pickpocket, Network, The Wages of Fear, Quai des Brumes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (a restoration presented in person by Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker), Bridge on the River Kwai, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Orpheus, The Warriors and The Big Lebowski. Most of these were made available to me during a three-month internship I undertook at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a position I could talk endlessly about, but will not concern you with here.

That didn’t leave much room for new films, and amongst those I missed that I suspect may have challenged the films on this list are: Paul, The Beaver, Warrior, Moneyball, Take Shelter, My Week With Marilyn, Tyrannosaur, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Skin I Live In, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.

Honourable mentions for films that I saw but barely missed out on the list are: Hugo, The Guard, The Muppets, Attack the Block, Senna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Bridesmaids, The Inbetweeners Movie, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Super 8.

Now, enough stalling… shall we?

20. The King’s Speech

The eventual reigning champion at last year’s Oscars, this was a beautifully produced and (for the most part) strongly acted account of the troubles faced by the young King George VI. A powerful and memorable ending casts a positive light on an otherwise largely forgettable flm; but damn, what an ending it is.

19. Troll Hunter

One of 2011’s most unexpected delights, this “found-footage” comedy/horror used the bizarre natural landscape of Norway as the perfect paradise for surprisingly realistic CGI trolls on a budget. An outrageously straight performance by Norwegian comic Otto Jespersen as the government-sponsored hunter of the title and surprisingly effective pseudo-science about troll biology made this film a sometimes scary but consistently hilarious outing – Man Bites Dog meets Rare Exports. “TROOOOOOOOOLL!” may have been the funniest delivery of a single word last year.

18. Tangled

Disney finally put a CG challenge to their successful underlings Pixar with this gorgeous retelling of the Rapunzel tale. Colourful, enchanting, witty and light, the film was only let down by standard music numbers and a fairytale parody feel all-too familiar from the Shrek films. A superb villain, a playful chameleon and an indestructible horse were all highlights, but the film’s greatest feat is the animation in Rapunzel’s seemingly endless waves of golden hair.

 17. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

M:I4 came out at the end of a year which had featured some strong blockbusters but had been for the most part low on action (Transformers: Dark of the Moon notwithstanding). But Ghost Protocol made up for that. Beginning with a simple prison breakout, Ethan Hunt and his team go on to infiltrate the Kremlim, abseil the world’s tallest building and embark on a chase through a sandstorm where every grain can be heard whistling violently by the camera. The story was light spy fare, but the commitment by actors and filmmakers on show were as awe-inspiring as the stunts they pulled off for the camera.

16. The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s latest is a powerful family drama. George Clooney is impressive as a lawyer nigh-widowed when his wife is left in a vegetative state after a boating accident. Trying to hold his family together, he must also deal with a sale of his family’s massive estate on which many relatives are relying. Hawaii has never looked so naturally beautiful and also hideously metropolitan as it does here. The music is wonderfully chosen from local sources, and Shailene Woodley gives one of the year’s best performances as the distraught and destructive older daughter. However, the film’s tiresome insistence on ending every dramatic scene with a punchline keeps it from being one of the greatest of recent American dramas.

15. True Grit

The Coens went west again with this adaptation of Charles Portis’s book, while still undeniably owing credit to the John Wayne-starring original. With two terrific performances at its centre by Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld and stunning golden-brown cinematography, this was a notable entry in the Coens’ canon. Expectedly wacky minor characters and some thrilling and tense shoot-outs added to the fun.

14. Pina

An incredible documentary and the finest live-action 3D film yet produced (although still far from faultless in terms of that technology), Pina is a work of love in memory of the late choreographer Pina Bausch. Wim Wenders controls the cameras but he allows Pina’s choreography to direct the film, as her company, each member an instrument of their master, performs sensational modern dance pieces. The energy and beauty of the dances are on full display, as four massive ensemble pieces are intercut with brief personal performances by each of the dancers. For the most part the 3D recreates the depth of viewing dance in theatre while allowing the viewer to feel the power and intensity of each performance more intimately. The film has emerged from a tragedy (Pina’s sudden death just before filming began) to become a testament to one woman’s remarkable legacy.

 13. Poetry

South Korean star Yoon Jeong-hee emerged from retirement to star in this superb, harrowing drama about an ailing grandmother forced to raise money for a legal settlement after her grandson is implicated in the suicide of a teenaged girl. Unexpectedly powerful and heartfelt, Poetry is carried by Jeong-hee’s sensational performance as she tries to find the will, energy and love to do whatever it takes to save her grandson from prison.

12. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This superbly shot, atmospheric spy thriller was one of the year’s most audience-dividing films, but few could doubt its style and the acting strength of its terrific ensemble cast. Despite some pacing troubles caused by adapting an extremely meaty book, Tomas Alfredson latest film maintained tension and intrigue from start to finish, while injecting some superb character drama into proceedings. Old-school storytelling meets modern filmmaking precision.

11. Kill List

The only film on this list that I can openly say I do not know if I wish to see it ever again. This genre-shifting oddity – part thriller, part horror, part kitchen sink drama – came out of nowhere this year; a low-budget Yorkshire production. With frenzied performances and horrific but effective storytelling, editing and imagery, this unforgettable beast manages to terrorise its audience but unlike most modern horrors actually has a genuine story. Family, friendship and the damage rage can do to them are the subjects at this film’s core. Unmissable – if your stomach can handle that sort of thing.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin

It may have suffered from budgeting problems but this drama, about a mother who cannot love her son, is crafted by truly expert hands. Lynne Ramsay directs the irreproachable Tilda Swinton as the troubled mother – uncertain if her child is evil or, worse, if her fearing that is making him so. A wonderful mesh of flashbacks weave together a devastating story, told with wonderful plays of lighting and editing. Swinton gives perhaps the greatest performance of her career to date, while co-stars John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller offer strong support.

 9. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s latest comeback is his best film in decades. Owen Wilson fills Allen’s acting shoes with aplomb as a writer nostalgic for an era he has never known – Paris in the ’20s. When, escaping his passionless fiancée, he inadvertently finds himself time-travelling to that age, he finds inspiration from his idols and, unexpectedly, a truer love in the form of Pablo Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard). Beautifully shot, cunningly scripted and with a soundtrack to warm the heart, the film is elevated further by a series of charming cameos; most notably Adrien Brody, hamming it up magnificently as Salvador Dalí.

8. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s film about obsession on the ballet stage combines the wildness of Powell and Pressburger with the psychological and body horror of David Cronenberg. Anchored by an incredible performance from Natalie Portman, this is a stylish, sexualised psychological thriller about a mental breakdown spurred on by determination to be the best. Ominous production design and chaotic editing kept the audience as confused and terrified as its lead character.

 7. Shame

Following his sensational breakthrough Hunger, director Steve McQueen’s second film is a tragic and overwhelmingly honest portrayal of a sex addict. The year’s biggest surprise star, Michael Fassbender, gives a disturbing but spellbinding performance in the lead role as a man obsessed with his own need. Carrie Mulligan gives a fine performance as his sister, the only person who stands a hope of getting through to him in his self-destructive cocoon, but who has her own problems to deal with. Shot with the director’s now signature style of long takes and anchored cameras, Shame gets you inside the head of a man you were happier only knowing the exterior of. A gripping, sorrowful, shameless movie.

 6. A Separation

As human as any drama could hope to be, this Iranian feature tells the story of a couple as they prepare to divorce, and the effect it has on their teenaged daughter. When an accident implicates the husband in a terrible crime, the familial bonds are tested to their limit. A Separation is an incredible, original-feeling story, in which every shot is sensitively composed, and the actors play out the drama with more conviction than most filmmakers could dream of finding. An unexpected gem of Iranian cinema.

5. Drive

Taking its cue from Walter Hill’s existential car chase classic The Driver, untameable Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made his American debut with more class and style than most of Hollywood’s heavy-hitters could hope to conjure in an entire career. Shot so slickly the screen appears to ooze light and colour (and later, blood), and with a soundtrack that can only be described as “awesome”, Drive took the whole world by storm and topped countless best of lists in 2011. Ryan Gosling plays the largely silent lead role calm and cool, but the film is stolen by the enigmatic Albert Brooks as a business-savvy mafia boss who takes no prisoners.

4. Melancholia

Perhaps Lars von Trier’s finest film to date, this drama of personal agony/apocalyptic sci-fi nightmare was one of the most hotly debated films last year. It tells the story of a young woman’s lapse into a destructive depression as the very literal metaphor of the planet Melancholia begins a collision course with Earth. As our heroine, Kirsten Dunst reveals herself a remarkable actress of hitherto unexplored talents. However, several of the film’s other performances – especially those of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling and Kiefer Sutherland – deserve outstanding praise also. The film’s overture, a stunning sequence of painterly foreshadowings, and its conclusion in an orgy of emotion, light and music, make it a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking from an endlessly challenging filmmaker.

3. 13 Assassins

One of the year’s most over-looked films, 13 Assassins echoes the greatness of Seven Samurai while creating a grittier, more violent and altogether more carefree film. Takashi Miike builds the drama over the course of an hour, setting his band of samurai against an army of warriors and their utterly despicable master. When the tension finally gives way, one of the most remarkably orchestrated battle scenes in recent memory erupts in a flurry of swords, severed limbs and flaming cattle. The film’s realistic look and soundscape allow for a perverse weirdness to seep through, which provides a truly breathtaking entertainment.

2. The Tree of Life

A surprise victor at Cannes in 2011, Terrence Malick’s latest is a glorious thing to behold. The story of a Texas family is told in flashes of light and memory, accompanied by angelic music and bolstered by outstanding acting by Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken. Through imagery of the dawn of time and the rise and demise of the dinosaurs Malick demonstrates the true reality of life; the lord giveth and the lord taketh away. Composed of one eye-shatteringly gorgeous image after the other, The Tree of Life simply has no equal in terms of skill in filmmaking. Only a misused Sean Penn and a clichéd (though beautiful) coda could be said to make this film anything less than a masterpiece.

1. The Artist

The filmmaker/actor partnership behind a pair of slight but playful French spy spoofs unexpectedly burst onto the global stage in a flurry of unbridled joy in 2011. The Artist, a silent tale of silent movies and the silent men and women behind them, is not just a throwback to the classics of old Hollywood, but is a touching, timely drama about obsoleteness and getting back on your feet. More importantly, it is a delightful, playful and utterly charming comedy that takes the visual medium to a place it hasn’t gone with such panache in over 80 years. Michel Hazanavicius directs like a silent-era pro, as if he were one of the European émigrés who built early Hollywood arriving a little too late to the party. In the lead role of former silent star George Valentin, Jean Dujardin is electric; every muscle in his body goes into his dazzling performance, his face does more work than most actors do with their entire beings. As his young muse, Bérénice Bejo provides a perfect mirror of physical support, while Valentin’s remarkable pet dog (also his co-star) steals many scenes without bending a whisker. As much homage as it is a work of sheer class in and of itself, The Artist is a joy-filled crowd-pleaser which also toys with the medium with some remarkable, truly satisfying results.

That's all folks!

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I think I read about this in a book somewhere…

Are you sure it was a book? Are you sure it wasn't nothing?

In the past few weeks something strange has happened, not just once, but twice, that has only happened maybe a dozen times before – I have watched a film of which I have previously read the book.

Now let’s get this straight, I don’t dislike reading. In fact, I enjoy it a lot. The problem is simply that I am not very fast at it. In fact, I am an exceedingly slow reader. From newspapers to novels and (most problematically) subtitles, I read at an embarrassingly lethargic speed. So when, in my mid-teens, I decided to become a film devotee, books fell somewhat by the wayside, and since then I have read only a handful of books each year, and mostly academic books at that.

So watching a film of which I have read the novel is, to some extent, a novel act for me (I make no excuses for excellent punage). I have friends who do their darnedest not to see a film until they have read the book upon which it is based, which is a truly alien concept to me. Often I enjoy finding out after watching a film how it differed from the source material from a friend who has read it (or Wikipedia) – it’s not as if I’ll ever find the time to read the book once I’ve seen the film.

Indeed, because of this, I rarely get that same twang of rage when a film is “unfaithful” to the novel as others do, largely because I am unaware of the supposedly blatant act of fictional infidelity.

Of course, when you bear in mind that, of the twelve or so films I had been literarily familiar with before seeing, eight of them were in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings camp, you truly see what a pathetic spectacle I am, in book terms. So this double blue mooning was particularly unheard of for me. What is particularly of note however is the very different forms of adaptation the two films were.

The Road was a book I read in two sittings, one of ten pages, the second of two-hundred and fifty. I was only familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s work through the adaptation of his No Country for Old Men, a film I have previously lambasted with praise both here and elsewhere. The Road was a haunting, puzzling and obsessive read for me, and as such I was extremely excited about the recently released film.

A huge fan of John Hillcoat’s breakthrough film The Proposition, I was equally impressed by his handling of this story. What The Road manages to do more so than most adaptations I have come across is maintain the tone of the book sharply at all times. The film is as bleak and uncompromising as the novel. Its post-apocalyptic world may not be as dull and ashen as that described in the novel, but it is equally lifeless and empty. While some of the novel’s most grotesque moments are left out, the film maintains the same sense of dread and horror, and hints repeatedly at the inhuman.

Most importantly, the film is not excessively reliant on narration, a burden that so many adaptations suffer. In the novel, the man repeatedly questions whether he can kill his own son to save him from a more gruesome fate should the need arise. This is handled with considerable skill in the film – an “action scene” is inserted whereby the man and boy are trapped in a house inhabited by cannibals; hearing footsteps coming towards them the father cocks his pistol and presses it to his son’s head, before an opportunity for escape soon arises. In Viggo Mortensen’s performance as the man, his hesitation in taking his son’s life is so clear that whole pages of narration are wrapped up in mere seconds. This is expert adaptation.

The Lovely Bones however, does not share this success. Alice Sebold’s novel is often described as a tale of the afterlife of a murdered teenager, but that is just the framework for its story – albeit an original one. The book is about loss, family, innocence and sexual awakening.

Peter Jackson proved with The Lord of the Rings that he is a master of summary, able to take the bare bones (admittedly no pun there, don’t look for it) of a story and tell it with charm and intelligence, even if he did stumble at the odd hurdle. But The Lovely Bones reeks of a complete misunderstanding of the epicentre of its source. No doubt a project he had longed to make for some years, Jackson shows his typical obsession with production design and special effects to recreate an impressive 1970s America and a bizarrely glossy afterlife. But he fails to find the heart of the story, and focuses on two essentially minor elements: the turmoil of the murdered youth looking down on earth and the “mystery” surrounding her killer.

But Sebold’s book is about the Salmon family, not Susie Salmon or her rapist/murderer George Harvey. In the book the family’s grief pours off the page, here it is edited off the screen. A criminally underused Rachel Weisz as Susie’s mother weeps before declaring she can’t take it any more and flees the story. Susie’s sister decides to play detective. Susie’s grandmother gets a comedic montage. Only Mark Wahlberg as Susie’s father succeeds in hitting any of the right notes, showing both a realistic grief, obsession, and a desire to possess the strength to move on. But the script fails to realise that the heart of this is his relationship with his estranged wife – in the film he hardly notices she has gone!

The film barely works as an adaptation because of its emphasis on the book’s less important aspects, but it would be unfair to say it does not treat those elements well (although misguidedly). Stanley Tucci makes a suitably creepy Harvey, and his scenes are perhaps the film’s best, although they are too bogged down in the thriller genre. Susie’s trippy experiences in the “in-between” try their best to capture an element of heavenly joy and human regret, and Saoirse Ronan is mostly able to pull this off, but only with an over-reliance on excessively mystical voice-over. The very concept of the “in-between”, briefly mentioned once in the book but here the film’s focus (Susie is definitively in heaven throughout the novel), shows a lack of faith by Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens in the source material. The nineteenth century French writer François-René de Chateaubriand wrote: “Purgatory surpasses heaven and hell in poetry, because it represents a future and the others do not.” Jackson et al have followed that rule too closely here, forcing Susie into a dramatic limbo that seems desperate to appease and patronise its audience.

The adaptation’s one true success is ironically its greatest straying from the novel. The finalé of Sebold’s novel features a brief “return” to earth for Susie, which is both unexpectedly sudden while also featuring a sequence that, if included in its original form in the adaptation, would have made this unsuccessful film utterly untenable for audiences. Here, the excesses of that chapter (defendable in the book only because of its focus on the blossoming of female sexuality) are toned down, while Susie’s “return” is cleverly triggered by the delayed disposal of her body, a sequence briefly detailed early in the book.

What both The Road and The Lovely Bones reveal is that faithfulness to events, characters or style do not make for a good adaptation; it is all about tone. Good storytelling is all about setting a mood, what happens next is up to the storyteller. Nothing is going to stop Hollywood from turning every airport bookshop bestseller into the next hit movie, but in the end what is important is not cramming every last detail into two hours (I’m looking at you Ron Howard!) and adhering to every development and twist as if they were holy scripture, but in getting to the meat of the novel, and expressing what it’s really about.

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