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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

An Unfinished Life

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM

The Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who brought us Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules, now presents…a big disappointment. The material is the stuff of made-for-TV-melodrama: Battered, widowed mom Jean (Jennifer Lopez) runs back to her crusty old father-in-law, washed up Wyoming rancher Einar (Robert Redford). Desperate for a safe haven, Jean shows up unannounced on Einar’s ranch with the 10-year-old grandchild he never knew he had. Einar hasn’t stopped blaming Jean for his son’s accidental death, or forgiven himself for not stopping the bear that mauled his friend, Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Predictably, Mitch’s unwelcome offerings of wisdom and the kid’s precocious prodding steer them all toward reconciliation.

Hallström treads lightly, though, letting the actors work out the story with a natural, easy pace, void of the brute sentimental force of a Lifetime family drama, but still, disappointingly, played with cookie-cutter predictability.

The performances are solid, but not stand-out. Lopez is not exceptional in any way, and Freeman proves himself yet again to be the moral center of the universe; the world would be a much better place if we all had miniature Morgan Freemans sitting on our shoulders, steering us to make the right choices. He does the wise old soul bit so well that it’s hard to begrudge him another go at it.

But the emotional territory here is too well-trodden. The only thing that truly feels fresh in is the scenery (British Columbia standing in for Wyoming). From the wide-open spaces of the ranch to the quiet feel of a small town, the surroundings are the most distinctive feature of the film — which is pretty disappointing when you have the likes Redford and Freeman at the ready in blue jeans and cowboy boots.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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