September 22, 2005
Unfinished Life (R)
by Amy Diaz
Robert Redford lends
some credibility to Jennifer Lopez, who in turn gives Redford some
mainstream appeal, in An Unfinished Life, a movie sundae topped by the
cherry that is Morgan Freeman — a man who can make anything look
Ah, it’s sunshine and
fresh air, all big and golden-toned and laid out with a painter’s
precision in the first shots we see of God’s Country, which in this case
is a small town in Wyoming. Between the landscape, which is shown off so
well you’re sure it’s meaningful in some way, and the wise, well-chosen
lines spoken by Freeman, you’re certain that you’ve stumbled into the
quiet release of this year’s Million Dollar Baby. Except, take that
Clint Eastwood, this tale has a pretty young woman in distress and a
So impressively lovely
is An Unfinished Life that you really are quite engaged and drawn in to
the story before you realize what complete hooey it all is.
Jean (Lopez) is a
pretty woman with a weakness for lousy men. After the most recent one
(Damian Lewis) beats her a time too many, Jean up and leaves, taking
only a small amount of cash, two trash bags of clothes and her too-smart
daughter Griff (Becca Gardner). She has no where to go and, without even
a car to bed down in, she decides to take her daughter to the home of
Einar Gilkyson (Redford), her former father-in-law.
The car accident that
makes his father-in-law status former killed not only Griffin Gilkyson
but any good feelings Einar and Jean may have ever had between each
other. The death of Griffin also marked the downward spiral of Einar who
now has only his cowboy buddy Mitch (Freeman) to hang with (an Mitch’s
presence is somewhat involuntary, as he was mauled by a bear and it now
semi-bed-ridden). He’s not at all welcoming of Jean but doesn’t turn her
out because of Griff, a girl he recognizes as looking a lot like his
dead son. He quickly takes to her, in turn giving Griff one of the few
positive male role models she’s ever had.
Naturally, all is not
perfect on Sunnybrook ranch. Jean may be continuing her boyfriend
addiction with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas) and her fist-welding-ex is
definitely not the kind of guy who takes a dumping well. And then
there’s a bear, the same bear (we’ll call him Contrivance the Bear) who
mauled Mitch. Contrivance the Bear has once again come down from the
mountains and though Einar tried to shoot him ends up in a cage, which
encourages all sorts Lit 101-like metaphors.
Redford is a fine actor, but he knows it and mugs with his pain like
a six-year-old showing off his favorite toy. Lopez also isn’t
particularly bad, even if her character could use a second draft.
Freeman is fantastic and can almost make irrelevant the fact that most
of his lines are unbelievably hokey. But they are, as is most of the
movie’s dialogue. And the story is particularly flat — far too much a
freeze-dried version of a story played out too many times before.
An Unfinished Life is a
lightweight, uninspired movie that is exceedingly well-made — like a
plain white T-shirt spun from cotton so fine it feels like silk and
tailored to fit the exact contours of your body. Uhm, lovely, you’d
think, but it’s still just a T-shirt. From Redford’s ambivalent cowboy
shtick to Lopez’s flawed heroine, it all seems like way to much effort
to go into a story that you can see nightly, usually starring the likes
of Valerie Bertinelli, on the Lifetime Network.