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Originally published Friday, September 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Idyllic cast but predictable journey through "Life"

Ursine movie veteran Bart the Bear lumbers through "An Unfinished Life" like a furry reject from one of John Irving's unfinished novels. He stands for...

Special to The Seattle Times

Ursine movie veteran Bart the Bear lumbers through "An Unfinished Life" like a furry reject from one of John Irving's unfinished novels. He stands for everything the movie's characters are feeling: the threat of violence, pangs of guilt over accidents that might've been avoided and the pain of past events that still haunt the present. For all the subtlety he brings to this old-fashioned melodrama, he should be wearing a sign that reads "Don't Feed Me, I'm a Literary Metaphor."

The humans in this dollop of humanity from director Lasse Hallström ("Chocolat," "The Cider House Rules") are only slightly less obvious. Once their dynamics are established, it's just a matter of watching loose ends tied up in a tidy little bow, which may explain why this is one of Miramax's leftovers, finally unshelved after a two-year delay.

This warmhearted film is relaxing to watch, and there's certainly no lack of casting prestige. Robert Redford, as divorced and aging rancher Einar Gilkyson (scruffy hair perfectly tousled by a Hollywood hairdresser), wears his curmudgeon role like over-starched underwear, and it's kind of fun to watch him as he mumbles under his breath, cursing the day his 21-year-old son was killed in an auto accident.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"An Unfinished Life," with Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas and Becca Gardner. Directed by Lasse Hallström, from a screenplay by Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg, based on the novel by Mark Spragg. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, brief violence. Several theaters.

Under a tree on Einar's idyllic Wyoming ranch (filmed in Canada, of course), the boy's gravestone reads "An Unfinished Life," but it might as well refer to Einar: Aside from caring for his hobbled ranch hand Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who was mauled by the aforementioned bear, he's bitterly going through the motions as life's twilight draws near.

That's when estranged daughter-in-law Jean (Jennifer Lopez) arrives with 11-year-old Griff (delightful newcomer Becca Gardner), the granddaughter Einar never knew he had. Desperate to escape her abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis), Jean has come to Wyoming knowing that Einar blames her for the death of his son. If you can't see where this is going, hurry to an optometrist.

Hallström specializes in tales of pent-up longing and hesitant reconciliation, but this cinematic Hallmark card is too prettified and predictable for his reliably delicate touch. The third act may find some reaching for a Kleenex, but when Bart finally saunters into the sunset, it's not a moment too soon.

Jeff Shannon:

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