When somebody writes the final history of the last days of Miramax—or at least Weinstein-brothers-era Miramax—one of the most telling chapters will concern the career of Swedish director Lasse Hallström. The creator of the rich, personality-filled 1985 coming-of-age story My Life As A Dog, Hallström made an initially successful transition to American movies with sensitive efforts like What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Then Miramax got him. The result was The Cider House Rules, a stately, moving, deservedly acclaimed John Irving adaptation. Apparently, everyone got greedy for more. Cocky with success in the late '90s, Miramax began thinking like an old-fashioned studio, making Hallström its go-to guy for one high-middlebrow adaptation after the other. Returns diminished in the form of Chocolat and The Shipping News, and they sputter out with the adaptation of Mark Spragg's novel An Unfinished Life, for which Hallström ropes an all-star cast into what's essentially a glossed-up TV movie.
Wearing peasant blouses and a ponytail to symbolize her character's daughter-of-the-soil origins, Jennifer Lopez begins the film fleeing abusive boyfriend Damian Lewis with daughter Becca Gardner in tow. Changing her identity, she goes on the lam and learns the art of self-defense for the inevitable day when… No, wait. That's a different Jennifer Lopez-as-battered-woman movie. Instead, she flees to a Wyoming town in the foothills of the Rockies, seeking shelter with father-in-law Robert Redford, who's never forgiven Lopez for the car accident that killed his son/her husband years ago. How does he express his frustration? Lots and lots of profane mumbling that suggests his performance might partially be inspired by old Popeye cartoons. He's got plenty to mutter about, too. Since his son's death, he's lost his cattle and his wife. What's more, best friend Morgan Freeman needs constant attention after a run-in with a bear. But could Gardner, who's never met her grandfather, be just the thing to melt his heart? And could bright-eyed sheriff Josh Lucas teach Lopez a thing or two about trusting men again?
Short answer: Yup. But not before a lot of terse bromides about letting go of the past, some Redford monologues delivered to his son's grave, and some awkward, symbol-heavy business about freeing the bear that mauled Freeman. And is that Lewis sniffin' around after Lopez? Better bust out the cowboy hats. It's corny, but the film might have worked anyway, had anyone brought a lick of conviction to the business. But Lopez—once such a promising actress—now does little but pose, and everyone else seems to have figured out that the film wasn't going anywhere before the cameras started rolling. Hallström does succeed at capturing a lot of nice scenery. And with that meager accomplishment, this particular chapter of his career comes to a close.