An Unfinished Life

Most of the movies that sat on the shelf at Miramax were bad. An Unfinished Life, oddly enough, is not. In fact, it looks and feels like the type of movie that the Weinstein brothers would pull out all stops for at Oscar time. It is a beautifully filmed story about starting over and reconciliation, and stars acting heavyweights Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman, and was directed by Lasse Hallstrom. It also stars Jennifer Lopez, but thankfully, this is one of the films she chose that requires her to show some depth. Lopez (Monster-in-Law, Shall We Dance) is better than she has been the past few years, but unfortunately, looks extremely wooden and uncomfortable when matched with Redford and Freeman. The best thing one can say about her here is that she didn't suck. An Unfinished Life is not a great movie. It's overly familiar, thinly plotted and easy to predict, but there is an innocence and earnestness about it that is almost enough to overlook some of its deficiencies.

Canada doubles for a large ranch in Wyoming, where Einar Gilkyson (Redford, The Clearing, Spy Game), still grieving over the death of his son, lives with his friend Mitch Bradley (Freeman, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds) on a sprawling ranch set in a beautiful valley. Redford is a nice guy, but harboring lots of bitterness. He and Mitch have a great rapport. They tease each other relentlessly, but each can also be extremely frank with the other without causing offense. It's the same type of gentle-wizened sidekick that Freeman excels at, while the Einar role would seem just as fitting if Clint Eastwood was in it. It feels very similar to the Eastwood/Freeman dynamic in Million Dollar Baby, but never feels like it is ripping it, or any other movie off. This familiarity is part of what makes the film so likable. Hallstrom uses an easy pacing which suits the story well.

Lopez plays Jean Gilkyson, Einar's daughter-on-law. Einar blames Jean for the death of his son in a car accident over a decade ago. For her part, Jean removed herself from Einar's life after the accident. An abusive boyfriend prompts her to run away from her current home. The only place left for her to go is to the Gilkyson ranch in Wyoming, which she reluctantly does with her daughter Griff (Becca Gardener, What Ever Happened to Alice). Griff is Einar's granddaughter, but Jean never told Einar about her. Needless to say, tensions are high between all of the Gilkyson's. Jean doesn't want to be there, and Einar doesn't want her there.

Still, it's no secret that Griff and Einar will eventually warm up to each other. Hallstrom (The Shipping News, Chocolat) and screenwriters Mark Spragg (Gross Anatomy) and Virginia Korus Spragg add in an errant bear to help the emotional bonding between grandfather and granddaughter as well as to flesh out the reason for Mitch's disability. It's pretty obvious that the bear represents something more than a bear, especially when Mitch (who dispenses plainspoken hard to ignore wisdom like PEZ) begins asking Einar for favors relating to the bear. A late but entirely expected appearance by Jean's boyfriend (Damian Lewis, Dreamcatcher, Brides) kicks the third act into action, leading to a round of warm fuzzies all over. Again, it's completely predictable and a tad corny, but with people like Redford and Freeman doing the acting, it doesn't seem so bad.

Hervert Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some violence including domestic abuse and language.

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