Saturday 27 August 2022

Movie Review: An Unfinished Life (2005)

A quiet drama about repairing family connections, An Unfinished Life is earnestly soulful and utterly predictable.

Escaping an abusive relationship with boyfriend Gary (Damian Lewis), Jean (Jennifer Lopez) packs up her 11-year-old-daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) and heads to the Wyoming ranch of her gruff father-in-law Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford). He is not thrilled to see her, still blaming Jean for her role in the death of his son Griffin. In addition to running the ranch, Einar also cares for his long-time friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is slowly recovering from severe wounds suffered in a bear attack.

Jean finds a job at a diner in the nearby town and initiates a relationship with local sheriff Crane (Josh Lucas), while Einar starts to bond with his granddaughter. With the bear captured and held in a cage, Mitch reflects on his near-death encounter and prods Einar to forgive Jean and move on from the past. The tension level rises when an agitated Gary shows up, looking for his ex-girlfriend. 

All the characters and issues residing within An Unfinished Business are introduced within 20 minutes of the start. From there a straight, clear line can be drawn to the ending, and no surprises get in the way of the safest predictions. Director Lasse Hallström brings his expertise in docile human-centred dramas to this adaptation of a Mark Spragg book, and delivers quality but staid entertainment.

Without narrative twists, time is invested painting a rustic picture of life on a Wyoming farm (pickup trucks to be fixed, cows to be milked) and the nearby one-street town (drunk young cowboys to be taught a few lessons). Jean finds a job at the local diner, and of course the owner Nina (Camryn Manheim) is the earth mother type with her own dramatic backstory, introduced and wrapped up in all of one scene.

The performances are excellent, Jennifer Lopez rising to the challenge of matching two legends. As Einar, Redford is dusty and distressed but mostly stubbornly determined to hold a grudge. Morgan Freeman brings the familiar physically-damaged-but-emotionally-prescient seen-it-all-before sidekick persona to Mitch. Becca Gardner keeps young Griff refreshingly real, balancing curiosity with uncertainty in her new surroundings.

The bear sub-plot occupies too much screen time, from capture to feeding and then a breakout, all forming a clumsy metaphor for getting back up stronger when life knocks you down. This applies directly to the bear and Mitch, but figuratively to all the characters. An Unfinished Life is every life accumulating scars of pain and wisdom, a story both genuine and common.

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