An Unfinished Life Review

Sep 09, 2005 | 6:48am EDT

Down on her luck Jean (Lopez) leaves her abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis) with her daughter and seeks refuge in the only place she knows--the Wyoming ranch run by her father in-law (Redford) Einar. Problem is she has been estranged from him for years because he basically blames her for his son's death and everything else that has happened thereafter. Nevertheless Jean takes up house with her spiteful in-law works a dead-end job and eventually hooks up with the local lovelorn sheriff (Josh Lucas). Naturally the turbulent relationship between Jean and Einar gets worse before it gets better but with the help of Jean's young daughter and the bedridden bear-mauling victim (Morgan Freeman) living in Einar's "guest house " things are righted between the two. Einar finally absolves Jean of the "accident" that killed his son thereby concluding his son's unfinished life. Oh and there's a cheesy predictable metaphor involving the bear too.

Lopez took a chance starring opposite screen legend Jane Fonda in the fun comedy Monster-In-Law--and it worked. But Life's a whole different genre. It's a tough sell to see Lopez as a nomadic beleaguered country bumpkin trying to make good. She should really just stick to romantic comedies. And working with a completely different acting legend she just can't connect with Redford. As for the veteran actor the man can simply do no wrong. He could write direct and star in a movie in his sleep and it'd still be better than most contemporary films including Life. Sure the choice to play a bitter old man donning overalls and a cowboy hat leaves something to be desired but he is still credible as Einar. Then there's Freeman who has starred in so many movies this year--playing the same knowing and wise part--that one doesn't need to look at the opening credits to expect his appearance. His subtle subdued performance is very good but he needs a break as much as we need a break from him.

Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom has been around a lot longer then most people realize. He made a modest hit in his own native language with the 1985 My Life as a Dog but his first big break came when he expertly guided Johnny Depp and a downright pubescent Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He went on to direct such Oscar-nominated films as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat further highlighting is his undeniable though subtle trademark of depicting the minutiae of bucolic settings. Hallstrom has made a career off of nuances of this running theme which simply continues in Life. With the film he has created something out of nothing by centering on a small story in a small town creating an interesting dynamic especially up against the lush scenery of the rural locales. Hallstrom is about the only other person connected with Life besides maybe Freeman who sticks with what he does best.

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