An Unfinished Life (2005)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ever since the death of her husband Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) has dealt with some pretty hard knocks in her life – thanks to one too many wrong choices. Following her husband’s tragic death, Jean walked away from any ties with family and has been raising her young daughter (Becca Gardner) on her own. Fleeing from an abusive relationship, Jean knows she cannot run forever so with funds running low, she winds up at her father-in-law’s doorstep, hoping he’ll be willing to take them in. Einar (Robert Redford) hasn’t ever come to terms with the death of his son… or the one person he holds responsible for his death: his elusive daughter-in-law. What she has kept from him all those years is unforgivable.

Time passes and the three of them somehow cohabitate with Einar constantly griping at his granddaughter and the inconvenience she is and neither adult has anything nice to say about the other while Einar devotes much of his time taking care of his ranch foreman (Morgan Freeman) who, a year ago was mauled by a bear, and badly injured in the attack. Re-building her life turns out to be more difficult than Jean thought. While trying to keep to a new lifestyle and learning to make choices that are best for her young daughter, Jean meets the local sheriff, Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas) who complicates her new lease on life. But bigger problems soon arrive when Jean’s leaving didn’t sit too well with her ex, and before long Gary (Damian Lewis) drives into town.

It’s too bad that this movie is peppered with some foul language because otherwise its one of the more touching I’ve seen in a while. It isn’t often that something promotes healing and forgiveness in such a poised way. Does that mean that what the script says is ultimately right? No, not necessarily but it does provide an excellent starting point, and that is something. The fact that all the characters are carrying around burdens is actually a good thing for the story to better be able to impart the meaning it needs to be a truly great story. Is this destined to be a classic? No, but then its heart-tugging story doesn’t need that illustrious title to be well-thought out and plotted. And the movie does elicit emotion.

Jean has been living from one relationship to the next with nary a thought to her daughter and that has been difficult on both. Most important it hasn’t been a stable living environment for her young daughter and that has left both with some emotional scars. Eventually (we’d be disappointed if this weren’t the case!), everyone comes together to make a better future for themselves and Jean realizes her selfish motivations are damaging and unhealthy. But that moment all comes down to a tense situation involving her ex and father-in-law.

In the director’s chair is Lasse Hollstrom who is more famously known for Cider House Rules (a film my mother detests and I have no plan to see). He has also been behind the camera for Chocolat which happens to be one of my favorite “artsy” films. This director has a kind of quiet, less-hurried way of telling his stories and that alone makes him a visionary who weaves deeper elements into his works. This movie is very different in terms of scripting but yet so much the same in camerawork and reflective moods. He gets the most out of every angle of filmmaking, although there is some genuine talent in front of the camera too. The veteran actors turn in top-notch performances as does Lopez but the youngster Becca Gardner gives a truly touching performance. (Hopefully, she’ll appear in something equally as compelling one of these days.) Everyone who had a part in making the movie brought to the screen a stirring story – it might be easily forgotten because of the slow pace that it unfolds, but then, you aren’t looking past that to the thought-provoking questions it leaves.

(Parental review, the film is rated PG13: The F-word is used before hardly fifteen minutes have passed, which in turn opens the script for several other crudities [sh*t] and numerous abuse of deity [GD]. There is implied pre-marital sex between a couple; one man makes a comment about oral sex and there are mild references to homosexuality.)


  1. Hm, it may be touching but sadly, I think I shall avoid this one.

  2. This is actually one of the more... "human" movies I've seen. It is a re-latable picture of humanity and forgiveness BUT yeah, the profanity makes it less than stellar. :-/


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