Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005

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An 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 Oscarworthy.

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 plucky kid.

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.