An Unfinished Life
Released with such other fare as the recent Stealth,
(the list goes on and on), director Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished
Life is a uniquely gentle, quiet film that tries too hard but still
manages to be as ingratiating as possible if overly saccharine. It seems
that a decent message can almost certainly upgrade a film of little other
caliber these days.
An Unfinished Life Review
An Unfinished Life begins with a glimpse
into the dismal lives of Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) a misanthropic
Wyoming rancher and Mitch, the incapacitated ranch hand he looks after.
Mitch, we learn shortly, was mauled by a grizzly bear about a year before
and now solemnly accepts the coffee and Morphine supplied daily by Einar
as he and his companion of over 40 years patiently await death. As far as
Einer is concerned, his life ended with the death of his son about a dozen
years before-and it certainly appears that way. Einer's withdrawn lifestyle
is interrupted by the uninvited arrival of his daughter-in-law, Jean Gilkyson
(Jennifer Lopez), who is on the run from an abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis).
Jean has brought with her Einer's granddaughter Griff (Becca Gardner) who
Einer is unaware ever existed. In his bitter despair, Einer blames Jean
for the premature death of his son (she was driving the car that killed
him) and does not welcome her or his granddaughter. The remainder of the
film follows Einer's predictable retreat from acrimony as he learns to forgive,
forget, love, bond, whatever it is that he must do to become a human being
This all sounds about as banal as it actually is, but despite pathetically
obvious symbolism (which is not to say invaluable), and roll-your-eyes one
liners, the film actually works due in no small part to the steadfast determination
of its cast and Hallström's penchants for sentiment. The characters
are played convincingly, the setting is believable (with splendid cinematography
provided by Oliver Stapleton), and we fall into a rhythm with story when
it is clear that it will be nothing but perfectly calculated and unhurried.
The film is slow by nature, yes, but Hallström's direction is focused,
he knows what he wants each shot, sequence, gesture to illustrate and he
gleans just that from the cast's strong performances-excluding the frequently
berated Lopez who is only as good as she needs to be but still much more
believable as an abused woman than we've previously seen (Enough anyone?).
Of the A-list cast, Freeman's performance is unfortunately the most contrived
as he rambles through a list of wise advice to the uncooperative Einer.
The wise old black man who must repair an ignorant old white man sounds
questionably similar to the far superior Clint Eastwood-Morgan Freeman male
bonding displayed in the 2004 boxing picture Million Dollar Baby.
Alas, Life was filmed a year before and does not compare in aptitude
in the least. It is a shame to force Freeman's Mitch to utter such repulsively
clichéd proverbs-his task in nearly every one of his scenes.
An Unfinished Life
Redford, looking every bit his age of 68, has a
subtle charm and humor as he sits, muttering to himself and his dead son's
grave even if we are sequentially irritated with his painfully prolonged
Newcomer Becca Gardner displays promising acting chops in a role that requires
a healthy number of pre-teen tears. And as the local diner owner, Camryn
Manheim provides a nice juxtaposition to Einer's mourning as we learn that
she too has buried a child.
Also in the mix, naturally, is a hunky local sheriff (Josh Lucas) with whom
Jean has a peculiar roadside romp with just days after arriving in town.
This scene, in all of about eight seconds, provides the only twist to an
otherwise uninspired story.
The success of the film is its careful study of salvation and clemency.
It is hard not to smile when little Griff tells Einer that a previous boyfriend
of Jean's was "mean with words…like you." After just spending the last hour
hearing Einer mutter profanities to himself and blame his daughter-in-law
for his son's untimely death, this is a strange instant of poignant truth.
We also learn a key factor in Mitch's brutal mauling that will no doubt
alter anyone's perception of the rugged ole Einer.
By the films end, a hefty 117 minutes I might point out, it is clear that
despite all of the hullabaloo about the predictability, the film has a meaning,
which is more than some movies can attest to. The story will no doubt be
labeled "boring" by many moviegoers in our ADHD-centric world, but those
who stick with the storyline will appreciate a film about more than impressive
car chases and gun-toting warrior princesses. Those who invest the time
will be reminded how it feels to moved by a motion picture.
An Unfinished Life (PG-13)
Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay: Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg
Running time: 107 minutes
Einar Gilkyson: Robert Redford
Mitch: Morgan Freeman
Jean Gilkyson: Jennifer Lopez
Griff Gilkyson: Becca Gardner
Sheriff (Crane): Josh Lucas
Gary: Damian Lewis
Nina: Camryn Manheim