An Unfinished Life
Posted on September 5, 2005 at 9:04 am
A bear is wandering through farms looking for something to eat. An angry and abusive man is following the woman who left him because he wants her to come back, or because he wants to hit her again, or both. Neither appears threatening at the moment, but both can and have inflicted great damage and are willing to do more.
A man has lost his son, a woman has lost her husband, a child has lost her father. This has left each of them isolated and fragile. They will learn that it is the not the loss but the isolation that makes them so vulnerable.
Jean (Jennifer Lopez) has a fresh bruise on her jaw. Gary (Damien Lewis) tells her that he loves her and hates to hurt her, but sometimes she just makes him do it.
She has stayed, before. But this time, she takes her daughter, Griff (lovely newcomer Becca Gardner) and leaves. She had hoped never to return to the place she grew up, but she has nowhere else to go. So she returns to the ranch owned by Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) and asks if she can stay just until she can get enough money to leave. And that is how Griff and her grandfather Einar meet for the first time.
Einar has given up most of his cattle and spends much of his time caring for his closest friend and former ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), now disabled. His only other regular conversation is with the grave of his son, Griff’s father. He is angry with Jean; he can barely bring himself to look at her. But he agrees to let her stay.
Most directors would take this material and hit us over the head with it. But Lasse Hallstrom trusts us and he trusts the story and the characters, taking his time, letting the story tell itself, helping us learn to care for the characters as they learn to care for each other. We know going in that this is going to be a story with revelations and confrontations and thawing and forgiveness. Hallstrom makes it work, with the able assistance of Redford and Freeman, who make us believe that they have been working that ranch together every day of the past 40 years. They have the affectionate rhythm of an old married couple (as the indispensible Freeman did with Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”). Lopez does not have the range to inhabit her role fully, but she has a nice chemistry with the talented Gardner and with Josh Lucas as a sympathetic sheriff.
Parents should know that this movie has some disturbing violence, including references to domestic abuse and fatal accidents, guns, punching, peril, and injuries, and a bear attack. There is some strong language. Characters drink and there are references to alcohol abuse. The movie includes sexual references, including sex without emotional involvement, and non-explicit sexual situations.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Einer blamed Jean and why Jean blamed herself. What made Jean decide to think differently about herself? What makes people decide when it is time to tell the truth about themselves? What does Mitch think about the bear and why does he want the bear to have what he cannot have? What is an unfinished life and who in this movie has one?
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate some of Hallstrom’s other films, including Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the under-appreciated Once Around, and The Shipping News. They will also appreciate movies Redford directed, includingOrdinary People (directed by Redford) andThe Horse Whisperer (also starring Redford and a very young Scarlett Johansson).