Sep. 21, 2005 - Issue #518: Superstud
Not unfinished enough, it would seem…
Hallstrom's hokey and largely inessential An Unfinished Life
leaves much to be desired
You spot a cast list headed by Jennifer Lopez and Robert Redford, followed by a picture of the two seated companionably on the porch of a lonely Wyoming ranch, and the first word that comes to mind is “yuck.” Fortunately, Jenny and the Sundance Kid are just friends—unfortunately, An Unfinished Life is so predictable you end up wishing for a little May-December action to liven things up.
Jean (Jennifer Lopez), a single mother on the run from her abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis), rolls into town, and she’s desperate enough to seek sanctuary at the house of Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), her former father-in-law. Between them there’s over a decade’s worth of anger, stemming from a car crash in which Einar’s son, Jean’s husband, was killed. Her daughter (Becca Gardner), the bizarrely named Griff (although, in a family where the head is “Einar,” all names seem normal), forms a bridge between the two, screwing her little face up whenever voices rise. But the real unifier is Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Mauled by a bear in one of many catastrophes (the plot has so many, it’s amazing there’s anyone left walking), Mitch is the unofficial commentator, left with nothing to do but remark on the goings-on in that sage Freeman-esque way. “So you’ve got a granddaughter,” he tells Einar. “Fine thing for a man.”
So far, though, it’s not bad, and the performances are well done. Lopez seems to be harking back to her abused wife in Enough, but she does hold her own, and that’s fairly impressive in this cast. Redford’s fine, too, though he’s slightly hampered by a script that has him as the action hero: a scene where he rescues a waitress from a group of drunken bullies serves no purpose other than to show just how strong grandpa is, and you end up feeling sorry for the young, fit actors who now have to put “beaten up by Robert Redford” on their résumé.
And it’s that darned Hollywood hokeyness that sinks this film. Mitch is the worst offender, and it’s a tribute to Morgan Freeman that he can manage to say lines like, “You’ve been dealt a bad hand, Einar” without embarrassment. Then there are the tragedies that fill the small town, all with such syrupy wrap-ups that you start expecting a Hallmark logo to flash at the bottom of the screen. Bitter girl Jean rebounds into the arms of nice guy Sheriff Crane (Josh Lucas). His disbelieving delight is nice, but her awe at his kindness is a bit much. “The thing is,” she says of the abuse she suffered, with an adoring look up at Crane, “you think that’s the best you can do.”
Director Lasse Hallstrom, who brought us, among other films, the sickly sweet Cider House Rules, isn’t known for his cinematic subtleties, and An Unfinished Life is no exception. The metaphors are laid on with something less than a light hand. For example, Jean pulls into town, full of angry guilt about the death of Einer’s son, and a bear (the well-groomed Bart II) ambles down out of the mountains. Einar has never let himself live again, says Mitch later, and the camera closes in on the bear, now caught, caged and lying nearly lifeless in the local zoo.
The one good thing in all this afterschool special-ness is the scenery. An Unfinished Life was filmed in Medicine Hat and the Cypress Hills, with a few shots of British Columbia for good measure.
This isn’t enough to save the film, though. It’s a bit sad, because, between Redford and Freeman, the film does have promise. But any film where you start praying for J Lo to hook up with Robert Redford is a no-go. V
An Unfinished Life
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom • Written by Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg • Starring Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Becca Gardner, and Josh Lucas • Opens Fri, Sept 23
New comments for this entry have been turned off and any existing ones are hidden. We apologize for any inconvenience.