REVIEW: An Unfinished Life [2005]

“You start to think you don’t deserve better”

I always wondered why An Unfinished Life didn’t get the chance it should have upon its release. Between the reknowned director, in Lasse Hallström, to the top-heavy, star cast, nothing was really said about it. I remember seeing the trailer online and thinking it seemed intriguing enough, and then next I knew it was out on DVD. If it hit theatres here in Buffalo, I was not aware. Finally, though, I was able to catch up on the story and see if it deserved the lackluster response or was as good as what I had heard from friends and online. In my opinion it ended up being a nice heartfelt story about love and death and family fighting to stay together no matter what differences may be in front of them.

Jennifer Lopez’s Jean Gilkyson has had enough of her abusive boyfriend and decided to leave him. Having nowhere to go, without him finding her, she resorts to going to her father-in-law’s ranch in Wyoming. The two haven’t seen each other since her husband/his son’s funeral. It is a last ditch effort to find a place of safety and her daughter gets to finally see a glimpse into the life of the father that she never had a chance to meet.

There is a lot that goes on in this film to keep track of besides just the awkward homecoming and attempts to thaw a decade of blame and anger. Where Einar Gilkyson refuses to accept that his son’s death was an accident while his daughter-in-law was driving, she can’t allow herself to feel like she deserves someone better than an abusive figure in her life, whether verbal or physical. Her guilt and knowledge that her love was gone has trapped her into a life of going from one bad guy to another. It is all up to the daughter to unknowingly bridge the gap between these lost souls and make them see the truth—that they are still family and they both loved Griffin more than anything in the world. They just need an excuse to find that out.

Along with this main plot thread comes the search by the abusive boyfriend to get his girl back, the local waitress who plays an integral role in the Gilkyson’s lives, and a bear who, one year removed from mauling Einar’s friend Mitch, has been captured and entrapped at a zoo. A lot of healing is necessary for this film to conclude and a lot of secrets and unearthing of everyone’s guilt for some mistake they have made in the past are brought to the surface. Characters begin to discover that the reasons they are angry with others is because they themselves have been in that situation before. They need to forgive themselves to be able to forgive the others because if they can’t accept the pain of what they did, no one else will be able to deserve it in their minds either. If there was one word to describe this film, it would be forgiveness.

While the script and story are very well done and interesting, it can get a bit long, especially towards the end. In order to tie up the loose ends of the ancillary storylines, we are given a few fadeouts and tacked on sequences once the main plot has been concluded. Those side tales, that enhanced in the beginning, begin to be a burden because they have been invested in so heavily that we need some closure there too. If there was a way for that to have happened before the conclusion of the main focus it might have been better because the audience wouldn’t be wondering why they are still watching when the big problem has been reconciled. The cinematography helps keep interest, though, because the still moments that could seem too long end up showcasing some beautiful country scenes and interesting compositions of frames.

The real joy of this movie, however, lies in the acting. I’ve never been a fan of Lopez, but she does prove here that she has some nice range and skill as an actress. It is just a shame that she rarely picks projects other than mundane romantic comedies. I am a fan of both Josh Lucas and Damian Lewis, and both do a great job as the polar opposite love interests to Lopez’s character. Lucas is more of a general role with not much to do, but Lewis has some work as the abusive boyfriend who can fly off the handle at any second with little provocation. Becca Gardner is pretty good as the young granddaughter in the middle of everything. There are some moments that show she is new to the craft, but they don’t seem quite too out-of-place for who her character is. Also, both Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman show how good they are at portraying what is needed at all times. Freeman is the voice of reason in their friendship and he must show happiness, pain, disappointment, and hope throughout. As for Redford, he really impressed me as the cantankerous old man who has finally started to accept the fact his son is gone, but has it all come back at him with the arrival of his guests. This has made me want to check out some more of his older films, Sting-era. I haven’t seen much of his work besides from the past few years.

An Unfinished Life 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Robert Redford (Left) and Morgan Freeman (Right) star in Lasse Hallstrom’s ‘AN UNFINISHED LIFE.’ Photo courtesy of Doane Gregory.
[2] Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, and Becca Gardner in Lasse Hallstrom’s AN UNFINISHED LIFE. Photo courtesy of Doane Gregory.


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