Wednesday, October 26, 2005

An Unfinished Life

AN UNFINISHED LIFE (Lasse Hallström, 2005)

Single mother Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez)runs from an abusive boyfriend in AN UNFINISHED LIFE. With nowhere else to turn, she goes to the Wyoming home of her father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford). He still holds Jean responsible for the accidental death of his son—her husband—that happened more than a decade ago. Their relationship has been so frayed that Einar never knew he had a granddaughter. Also living with Einar is Mitch, a ranch hand played by Morgan Freeman. Mitch was mauled by a bear, and out of friendship and guilt, Einar cares for him. AN UNFINISHED LIFE brings these wounded individuals together with the anticipation of healing.

AN UNFINISHED LIFE is an affecting demonstration of the enormous impact forgiveness can have on oneself and others. Director Lasse Hallström’s Oscar-bait films, such as THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and CHOCOLAT, tend to have sentiment thickly applied, but AN UNFINISHED LIFE’S story of redemption is told with restraint. The film is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. The characters’ emotional scars are old and deep, and the film grants time for changes to occur gradually. Aside from the abusive boyfriend, who pops up briefly, AN UNFINISHED LIFE is a film without a villain. The forces harming the characters’ lives are internal, not some external figure. Once they come to this realization, their lives are transformed. Jean learns to stand up for herself. Einar lets go of his anger and self-pity.

None of this is especially surprising, but it gains power through the cast’s uniformly solid performances. Lopez again shows that she’s a capable actress when she’s not being a diva. Redford lends great poignancy to the softening of his grizzled farmer’s bitterness. One more time Freeman is the film’s voice of reason, providing a steadying influence in stormy conditions. As Jean’s daughter Griff, Becca Gardner holds her own with these veterans.

Grade: B

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