An Unfinished Life
- Robert Redford as Einar Gilkyson
- Morgan Freeman as Mitch Bradley
- Jennifer Lopez as Jean Gilkyson
- Josh Lucas as Sheriff Crane Curtis
- Becca Gardner as Griff Gilkyson
- Damian Lewis as Gary
As well trodden and predictable the story may become, An Unfinished Life gains points and clarity from the uniformly excellent cast and depth from direction that give it something extra. This movie was quickly dismissed upon release, but although more than a little formulaic, it is worth a watch for emotion and heart.
Einar Gilkyson is a Wyoming rancher whose business has gone downhill ever since he lost his son in a car accident and he ended up hitting the bottle. He still has some work to do, but these experiences have made him shut off and become bitter. Living with Einar is his best friend and former rancher Mitch, who a year prior was mauled by a bear and has still not fully recovered from his deep wounds that have left him with difficulty walking. Einar takes care of Mitch, yet when it comes to everything else he is gruff and distant. The two live their lives on the ranch with differing perspectives; Einar is angry at the death of his son and has never really dealt with it properly, while Mitch is genial and with regards to his encounter with the bear has moved on and is trying to live what is left of his life happy. Things change when Einar’s daughter in law Jean arrives with her daughter Griff, that Einar had no idea existed. There is bad blood between Einar and Jean as Einar blames Jean for surviving the accident that claimed his son, whilst Jean has tried to remain strong but has now fled from her abusive latest boyfriend Gary. Needing a place to stay, Einar reluctantly allows them to live with him. Although awkward at first, through the kindness of Mitch towards Griff, Jean’s numerous tries to reconcile and the little Griff’s attempts to break through to Einar, wounds that have festered begin to wane between Jean and Einar as they finally have to confront their fears and grief. Einar soon begins to open up more, but danger could very well be on the horizon with the bear that mauled Mitch back and the psychopathic Gary looking for Jean.
Now while some of his directorial flourishes go a bit mawkish, Lasse Hallstrom at least invests An Unfinished Life with a moving centre, offset by the occasional bit of humour as the souls of the character slowly heal. I liked the sense of immediacy and closeness that Hallstrom gave the film and the brisk pace he employed, that let events unfold with a quickness that never gets rushed. It must be said that a lot of the story is nothing particular groundbreaking in terms of drama and more than a little it can get a bit overly sentimental and the script gets clunky. Yet somehow the film works and while not particularly original, it tells the story in an efficient way that doesn’t squander any of the emotions within it. This story is of healing and learning to let go and its observations of these key themes is well orchestrated and directed. There are some lovely bits of scenery to be found too, with the trees and winding roads of rural Wyoming being lushly photographed and lensed with skilled assurance. A country influenced score charts the gradual emergence of Einar coming into a sense of acceptance and brings a wealth of emotion to An Unfinished Life.
A talented cast brings a poignant sense of emotion, soaring above the sometimes formulaic story. Robert Redford reveals a gruff and cantankerous exterior for Einar as someone who doesn’t want to open up but really should. There’s a sadness to Redford’s delivery that is clouded with anger and the actor really shows off his talent here as Einar is forced to finally comes to terms with the events that he couldn’t deal with before. Morgan Freeman is dignity and quiet strength personified playing the injured Mitch, who refuses to let pain get in his way of being positive and supporting Einar. With gravitas and an amiable smile, Freeman is reliably brilliant in this touching role. Jennifer Lopez is natural and stoic as Jean, who is both afraid and determined to remain strong and find some common ground with Einar. It is her role that forces the shift from Einar’s grief to recovery and Lopez plays it very well. Josh Lucas is the weakest of the cast as he is saddled with the rather uninteresting role of the sheriff who takes a liking to Jean. The role is one that doesn’t give him a lot to work with and it suffers from a lack of scope. The young Becca Gardner has the right amounts of charm and resonance for the part of Griff, who wears down her grandfather’s tough shell and lets him live again. And exuding menace and relish for possession is Damian Lewis, as the controlling and abusive ex boyfriend of Jean’s that can’t let her go.
It stumbles into schmaltz at times and is never going to be the most inventive film put out there, but with what it has, An Unfinished Life is a moving story of learning to let bygones be bygones and begin to live once more.