How did Lasse Hallström lose his way, regressing from being a highly respected, Oscar-nominated director to a Hollywood hack responsible for such critical and commercial duds as Casanova, The Hoax, An Unfinished Life and The Shipping News?
Maybe the 64-year-old Swede realises he has lost his mojo or his artistic judgment as he prepares to shoot his first film in his homeland for 24 years.
He's directing The Hypnotist, the saga of a Detective Inspector Joona Linna who hires a hypnotist to help solve a triple homicide, adapted from a novel by Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril).
The novel is the first in a series so the producers Börje Hansson, Peter Possne and Bertil Ohlsson of Svensk Filmindustri and Sonet Film are hoping for a movie franchise a la Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy.
It will be Hallström's first Swedish feature since 1987's More About the Children of Noisy Village, the story of a group of children growing up in an idyllic village during the early 1930s.
The director's international breakthrough came thanks to My Life as a Dog, which earned Academy Award nominations for best director and adapted screenplay in 1988. After making What's Eating Gilbert Grape, he was nominated for a directing Oscar for The Cider House Rules and he enjoyed success with Chocolat.
But 2001's The Shipping News, his adaptation of the Annie Proulx novel, marked the beginning of a spiral in his career, earning just $US24 million at cinemas worldwide.
Perhaps the ultimate humiliation for him was watching Hachi: A Dog's Tale, which starred Richard Gere as a music professor and an abandoned Japanese puppy as his best friend, being released direct to DVD in the US in 2009.
Last year Dear John, his tearjerker based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, earned a decent $80 million in the US but was scorned by the critics. Puzzled why the director would be attracted to that subject, Rolling Stone's Peter Travers put forward two reasons: “He was hogtied and threatened to participate… (or) perhaps the answer is as simple as a pay cheque. In that case, he's made us all suffer.” The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips derided him as a “veteran postcard-scenery-maker.”
Recently Hallström completed filming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a comedy based on Paul Torday's novel, financed by BBC Films, the UK Film Council and Lionsgate UK, and starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas.
The premise seems unlikely – British government scientist is set the daunting challenge of introducing salmon to the dry riverbeds of the Yemen – but so was the story of a troubled kid who barked like a dog, which became My Life as a Dog.
So why has Hallström been responsible for a string of failures? My guess is Travers is right about his thirst for fat pay cheques. In itself that's no sin but when it's coupled with lousy judgment, that probably explains why his career has gone backwards for the best part of 10 years.