Between the shooting and the release of “An Unfinished Life”, Lasse Hallström had time to direct a whole other film, “Casanova”, presented at the last Venice Film Festival. When a studio keeps pushing back the release date of one of its productions, it never inspires confidence. Then again, the Swedish filmmaker’s (next-to) latest isn’t particularly inferior to his previous work. Those who can’t stand the diehard sentimentality of the director of “Chocolat” and The Cider House Rules won’t change their mind, but whoever isn’t indifferent to postcard landscapes, mushy music and teary clichés should find satisfaction.
After one too many punches in the face, Jean (Jennifer Lopez) leaves her violent boyfriend (Damian Lewis) with her daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) and they find refuge in the Wyoming ranch of her father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford), an aging cowboy still bitter over the death of his son, for which he holds Jean responsible. Completing the picture are Crane (Josh Lucas), the Sheriff who flirts with Jean, and Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who worked on the ranch before being mauled by a bear.
Will Einar forgive Jean? Will she forgive herself? Is the big bad ex gonna barge in? Asking these questions amounts to answering them. Surprises aren’t part of the package in “An Unfinished Life”; each plot turn is predictable and every thematic or symbolic element is underlined over and over. Mitch might be the one who’s disfigured, but the other characters all have their own scars, barely less visible, and each will have to face its bear, literal or figurative.
Despite a wobbly screenplay (co-written by Mark Spragg and his wife Virginia, a former therapist probably to blame for its pop psychology), the film escapes mediocrity thanks to the cast. J-lo’s antics in the tabloids annoy a lot of people, but she’s actually a pretty fine little actress, holding her own even next to seasoned veterans Redford and Freeman. The latter display enjoyable chemistry on screen, playing old buddies like Freeman has done a couple of times with Clint Eastwood. Nothing new under the Wyoming sun, but “An Unfinished Life” remains a decent melodrama.