Dir: Lasse Hallstrom.US. 2005. 107mins.
An Unfinished Life is the kind of film where you can predicteverything that will happen within moments of the story starting to unfold. Allthat remains is a simple matter of dutifully filling in the blanks.
This Lasse Hallstromventure had been sitting on the shelf for some time before its world premierein Edinburgh - and it's not hard to see why. The dreary storyline, the waningbox-office pull of Robert Redford and the debatable value of Jennifer Lopez allcombine to make this a tough sell. The pedigree cast should ensure it more of afighting chance in ancillary markets where its release may come sooner ratherthan later.
Following in the patternof previous Hallstrom heart-warmers like Shipping News and Chocolat,An Unfinished Life also has affinities with Redford's version of TheHorse Whisperer in its maudlin tale of broken lives, breathtaking sceneryand reconciliation. This is undeniably scenic but is an altogether morepedestrian affair.
Finally rebelling againstthe abuse meted out by boyfriend Gary (Lewis), Jean (Lopez) grabs her daughterGriff (Gardner) and runs. They eventually arrive in Iishawooa, Wyoming andthrow themselves on the mercy of grumpy old rancher Einar Gilkyson (Redford)who is Jean's father-in-law.
He has always held herresponsible for his son's death in a car crash and never forgiven her. Theirlack of communication means that he never even knew that he had agranddaughter. The girl's independent spirit starts to melt his heart of stone asthey all struggle to come to terms with the past.
Unshaven and looking hisage, Redford is the one who seems to be making the greatest effort here as hetackles the kind of flinty, emotionally repressed character more traditionallyassociated with Clint Eastwood. It is one of his more appealing recentperformances and there is a good deal of natural warmth and chemistry in hisscenes with loyal ranch hand Mitch, played by Morgan Freeman, and in hisdeveloping On Golden Pond-style relationship with the granddaughter.
Lopez is rathercolourless in what should be a strong dramatic turning, suggesting once againthat she is at her best in romantic comedy (Maid In Manhattan, Monster-In-Lawetc).
Damian Lewis is littlemore than a ghostly presence in the severely underwritten role of the abusiveboyfriend who only seems to materialise as and when the plot demands. JoshLucas is similarly under-employed as the local sheriff who offers Lopez comfortin her hour of need.
All are upstaged by thebear who mauled Mitch, and whose release into the wild eventually signals arelinquishing of the bitterness and guilt that has scarred all their lives.
An Unfinished Life certainly looks at treat as it unfolds amidstmountain greenery and the beauty of the American west but it just too glib andmawkish. Its attempts to tug at the heartstrings are so transparent that theyare very easy to resist and all the star power and craftsmanship in the worldcan do nothing to counteract that.
Alan Ladd Jr
Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg, based on his novel