AN UNFINISHED LIFE (director: Lasse Hallström; screenwriters: from the novel by Mark Spragg/Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg; cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton; editor: Andrew Mondshein; music: Deborah Lurie; cast: Robert Redford (Einar Gilkyson), Jennifer Lopez (Jean Gilkyson), Morgan Freeman (Mitch Bradley), Josh Lucas (Crane Curtis), Camryn Manheim (Nina), Damian Lewis (Gary), Becca Gardner (Griff Gilkyson); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Leslie Holleran/Alan Ladd Jr/Kelliann Ladd; Miramax; 2005)
“A tense but ultimately corny family drama.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A tense but ultimately corny family drama directed by the Swedish Lasse Hallström (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”/”My Life As A Dog”) and written by husband and wife team Mark and Virginia Korus Spragg from the novel by Mr. Spragg. Its theme is about family togetherness, forgiveness and living an independent life without being caged. It’s woven around a bleak narrative about an abused single mom, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) and her 11-year-old daughter Griff (Becca Gardner), splitting from Iowa after another beating from bully boyfriend of two years Gary (Damian Lewis) and going to her depressed father-in-law’s ranch in rural Wyoming. He’s Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), whose ranch and personal life has nosedived since his son Griff died in an auto accident when his wife fell asleep at the wheel. Einar has never forgiven his daughter-in-law for the accident, and gives the two a frosty reception. Also living on the property is Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a ranch hand who was badly mauled by a bear last year and is in severe pain needing to be nursed by Einar. Though Einar was with him at the time of the attack, he was too drunk to help get the bear off him.
Jean scores a job in the local diner and befriends the other sympathetic waitress Nina. She also scores the town’s cop Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas). As expected, Einar soon warms to the nice-girl granddaughter he never knew he had and the two bond. The bear that crippled Mitch conveniently returns and the animal control officers cage the bear in the local zoo. Mitch is obsessed with the bear and determines it should be free, and gets Einar to release it back into the wild. The abusive boyfriend returns and does not heed the warnings of Einar and the cop to get out of town. When he tries to kidnap mother and daughter, Einar beats the living daylights out of the creep and sends him back to Iowa by bus.
The lessons learned are: Einar is on the wagon and forgives his daughter-in-law; Jean stops running away and tries to make a go of it in Wyoming; Mitch forgives the bear because he was only doing what bears do.
The story is all too predictable, stuffed with too much annoying symbolism, cheap emotional tricks and unwarranted solemnity, but the acting by a crusty and grizzly Redford, an earnest Lopez (looking just as pretty with a bruised face as ever) and an endearing Freeman gave the film some credence. Redford and Freeman have a great rapport together and their relaxed performances would have gotten the film over if the story wasn’t so banal.
REVIEWED ON 10/7/2005 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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