An Unfinished Life
2005, PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Becca Gardner, Josh Lucas, Damian Lewis, Camryn Manheim.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 16, 2005
Thoroughly predictable from start to finish, An Unfinished Life rehashes Silas Marner by way of Miramax. In this variation of the story, embittered rancher Einar Gilkyson (Redford) grieves long after the death of his adult son in a car accident, until the 11-year-old grand-daughter (Gardner) he never knew existed suddenly enters his life and humanizes him once again. Of course, there’s never any doubt that she will melt the frozen heart of this grizzled, ornery old man; from the outset, you know exactly how the situation will play out and accept that pre-ordained conclusion as the guilty pleasure the film offers. Low-key in the way of most films directed by Hallström (a Miramax stalwart), An Unfinished Life touches on a number of themes, with the healing power of forgiveness being the most prominent of them. The film’s principal conflict is between Einar and his estranged "dead son’s wife," Jean (Lopez), both of whom haven’t communicated since the untimely death of the young man who linked them over a decade ago. After being physically abused by a tempestuous boyfriend one too many times, the down-on-her-luck Jean and daughter flee the Midwest and end up on Einar’s Wyoming ranch, where they are none too welcome at first. The reason for the estrangement between Einar and Jean is kept a mystery for a while, a narrative ploy that gives the film a dramatic tension that serves it well. Age has given Redford the gravitas he’s always lacked as an actor, and while the role of Einar isn’t really much of a stretch for him – the loner cowboy persona is one that Redford has cultivated for most of his career – he plays the part well. Watching him cuss and mutter under his breath makes for easy laughs, and yet you can forgive Redford (and the film) for it, because it’s as if the Sundance Kid were reborn. But even Redford’s considerable charm can’t salvage Einar’s daily soliloquies next to the grave of his son; those moments aren’t just sentimental, but artificially so. The other performers hold their own, particularly newcomer Gardner, who looks a lot like a young Anna Paquin. And as good as he is in the role of a ranch hand convalescing after being mauled by a bear, Freeman needs to be careful about becoming relegated to the "sidekick" role. The dynamic of the relationship between his character and Einar is very similar to that in Million Dollar Baby. While An Unfinished Life never transcends its simple storyline to charter original ground, it’s the kind of movie that you can’t fault too terribly much, primarily because its heart seems to be in the right place. Though it’s not the memorable swan song that the departing Weinstein brothers might have wished for upon leaving Miramax at year’s end, An Unfinished Life is nevertheless an honorable one.