An Unfinished Life

A bear runs through it.

Even when he's not an environmental activist or independent film guru, Robert Redford infuses every project and role with a gravitas part hope and part dignity. But not all the films are successful such as All the President's Men or Butch Cassidy. Director Lasse Hallstrom's An Unfinished Life is a modern melodramatic oater whose plot once started can navigate on its own.

Redford's Einer is a crusty old Wyoming cowboy taking care of a much milder buddy, Morgan Freeman's Mitch, who has been mauled by an ubiquitous brown bear. Arriving in their lives is Jennifer Lopez's Jean, Einer's ex daughter in law with his granddaughter, whom he had not known about. Why he's grumpy about their arrival is the only original part of a tired plot, so I'll let you enjoy it on your own. After that, you know what happens.

Besides the flat screenplay, peppered with Einer's frequent but soft SOB exclamations, are numerous Redford close-ups to show his small but effective repertoire of actorly responses such as frustration and skepticism, and a weathered face hidden behind his stubble. Speaking of "behind," J-Lo tries to act like an actress, but she still is best at eliciting our smirks as she jokes with her daughter about mispronouncing "Butte," Montana.

The bear as metaphor for violence and forgiveness competes for figurative heavy-handedness honors with the old pickup truck standing for the creaky Einer. All of this mediocrity can't be blamed just on the writers; Halstrom's proven penchant for the sentimental in family situations (think Cider house Rules and My Life as a Dog) pervades music, tone, and pacing.

It was not painful for me to see this beautifully photographed horse soap opera because Redford and Freeman demand attention even when they're just jawing and fighting about nothing. They are not ordinary people, and that reminds me of a worthy Redford film . . . .