Lasse Hallstrom: The '00s and '10s
The Shipping News
An Unfinished Life
The Hoax (November 23/07)
Based on a true story, The Hoax follows a struggling writer (Richard Gere's Clifford Irving) as he convinces his publishers that he's been commissioned by Howard Hughes to write his official autobiography - though, of course, Clifford has actually never met the reclusive billionaire. Director Lasse Hallstrom - working from William Wheeler's screenplay - has infused The Hoax with a breezy, light-hearted sensibility that proves impossible to resist, and there's little doubt that Gere's surprisingly loose performance plays a substantial role in cementing this vibe. The actor ably steps into the shoes of a character that's simultaneously charming and sleazy, while there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the uniformly strong supporting cast (Alfred Molina, as Clifford's long-suffering friend, is an obvious standout). It's only when Wheeler starts to place the emphasis on the personal problems of the various characters - ie Clifford's crumbling relationship with his wife - that the film starts to lose its momentum, with the almost egregiously predictable (and melodramatic) third act only exacerbating this feeling. Yet it's ultimately clear that The Hoax generally marks a refreshing change of pace from Hallstrom's almost oppressively sentimental modus operandi as of late.
Hachi: A Dog's Tale
Inspired by true events, Hachi: A Dog's Tale details the unusually strong bond that forms between a college professor (Richard Gere's Parker Wilson) and a dog named Hachi after the former finds the latter abandoned at a nearby train station. Director Lasse Hallstrom has infused Hachi: A Dog's Tale with a relaxed sensibility that effectively reflects Stephen P. Lindsey's low-key screenplay, with the palpable chemistry between Parker and Hachi effectively sustaining the viewer's interest during the film's decidedly uneventful opening hour (ie Gere is at his charismatic best here, and that dog is almost absurdly adorable). The pleasant, easy-going atmosphere is perpetuated by the colorful array of supporting characters, as Hallstrom does a nice job of establishing the various townspeople that become an increasingly pivotal part of Hachi's story (including Jason Alexander's Carl and Erick Avari's Jess). And while the pervasively laid-back vibe might be too much for some folks to handle, the viewer's patience is certainly rewarded once the tremendously moving third act rolls around - as the story's expectedly tragic turn is exploited to maximum emotional effect by Hallstrom. It's consequently not a stretch to label Hachi: A Dog's Tale the most gut-wrenching tearjerker to come around in quite some time, and there's little doubt that the film will undoubtedly leave dog lovers reeling long after the end credits have rolled.
Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, Dear John follows military man John Tyree (Channing Tatum) as he finds himself falling for a free-spirited college student (Amanda Seyfried's Savannah Curtis) while on leave - with their unabashedly idealized romance hitting a seemingly insurmountable road block after John extends his tour in the aftermath of 9/11. There's little doubt that Dear John ultimately fares best in its opening hour, as the tentative relationship between John and Savannah is ultimately handled a lot better and far more maturely than one might've expected - as director Lasse Hallstrom employs an impressively artful sensibility that separates the film from its typically superficial and glossy teenage-romance brethren (ie Adam Shankman's cloying adaptation of Sparks' A Walk to Remember). And although the filmmaker's reliance on languid pacing results in a watchable yet thoroughly uneven atmosphere, the palpable chemistry between the central characters proves affecting enough to carry the proceedings through its less-than-enthralling stretches. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Dear John demonstrably suffers as John and Savannah are forced to spend much of the movie's midsection apart, with the uniformly stellar performances ultimately sustaining the viewer's interest during this comparatively lackluster portion of the proceedings. Seyfried's expectedly luminous work is matched by a surprisingly layered performance from her otherwise unremarkable co-star, yet there's little doubt that it's Richard Jenkins - cast as John's emotionally distant father - who inevitably walks away with the title of MVP (ie he's just that good). The final result is a feel-good romance that's actually more satisfying than its literary predecessor, as the film's relatively upbeat conclusion feels like a more appropriate match for the syrupy storyline than the curiously depressing finale within Sparks' novel.