The Lovely Bones review – Lee Pace is a model of tenacity as the abused

Her tenacity paved the way for others to have their cases examined

“Yours is the hardest hard job in the world. I only hope that one day it will finally be done.”

Nearly 17 years after her alleged attacker, Kevin Cooper, was found guilty in 1995, Alice Sebold’s teenaged protagonist begins the process of filing a motion for a new trial. Inheriting a promise from her dead friend’s father to fight for justice and the passion for telling the story to her daughter, Sabrina Schroeder, the film adaptation of The Lovely Bones turns its attention to Schroeder’s travails.

With Sag Harbor’s Lee Pace (Powers Boothe) starring as Schroeder and James McAvoy (Victor/Victoria) as Cooper, the drama would seem to be in good hands. And with Rowling’s guidance, the film reaches for familiar emotional terrain and depths; with spirited performances from Holden Caulfield and Ansel Elgort, it is a master class in the craft of writing a star-studded (and star-stuck) dramedy.

Now granted, as is the case with all historical events, The Passion and Melancholy of Kevin Cooper may very well have remained the fifth and only of Schroeder’s courtroom filings. But where hundreds of cases of sexual assault haunt that courthouse, these proceedings are emblematic of Schroeder’s tenacity in a sea of complacency and failure.

The film taps into the reader’s hopes and expectations to investigate her journey to justice. Years ago, she put together her life around the goal of eradicating rape and abuse from society. And when her alleged attacker, Kevin Cooper, was found guilty of raping her, she began the battle to end it all.

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Leading a team of detectives and a dedicated group of volunteers to investigate each of her claims, Schroeder helped protect the noncustodial rape victims of Leland Scheetz, Little Bo Peep and Richard Connell – as well as her own claim. Her dogged determination to seek justice behind the scenes for survivors gives The Lovely Bones its power and integrity.

Sabrina Schroeder (Lee Pace) in The Lovely Bones. Photograph: Working Title/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

There are admittedly flaws. There is a tendency to prioritise the viewer’s emotional investment over character development or the accuracy of the facts, which is probably best left to those with more training to deliver accurate legal drama. And the fact that Marcia Clark, the trailblazing LA district attorney who did such a great job in the OJ Simpson trial is named as a character and then never mentioned again is a bit absurd. So are the outrageous sequences of pelvic climax on the dance floor.

On the other hand, the transformation from a schoolgirl to a lawyer – well played by Rebecca Hall – manages to capture both her diligence and weariness. And her character develops into more than a paragon of victim-blaming though.

Kevin Cooper (James McAvoy) in The Lovely Bones. Photograph: Working Title/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

The film is free from the cynicism or stereotypical American optimism that too often clogs reality television and could make a story that many would find tiring suddenly appear to soothe, enticing and gripping. The film mixes Hitchcockian suspense with horror and the death of long-time friend Leland Scheetz into a finale so sublime you forget the age of each actor on screen.

But as Schroeder finds herself more bogged down with the error of her ways, the audience must similarly turn the page.

• The Lovely Bones opened in UK cinemas on Friday

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