I can see Redford and Freeman. It takes zero imagination to believe Redford and Freeman playing two old friends. The two Oscar winners pairing up for a movie makes a lot of sense. But Redford, Freeman and J-Lo in a subdued movie set on a ranch in the middle of nowhere? I went into the film not buying it and came out still not completely sold on the end product, but at least not as disappointed about the result as I anticipated.
If what Ive just admitted makes it sound like I prejudged the film, then I apologize. I didnt have a preformed opinion about the film itself. I just know from being burned in the past that Im not a big fan of Jennifer Lopez films so I was prepared to be let down once again. And while shes definitely out of her element in An Unfinished Life, director Hallstrom managed to shoot her scenes in a way which best complimented her style. It also helps that her dialogue is very limited and shes not called upon to provide any sort of comic relief. This is a straight-out dramatic role and Lopez, at least in my book, seems to perform better in dramas than in comedies.
But enough about Lopez. An Unfinished Life is really the story of Redford and Freemans characters and their friendship, which spans four decades. An Unfinished Life is a leisurely paced, moving story of two guys growing old together, taking care of one another, being there for each other through thick and thin, and making the most out of lives that are slowly but surely winding down.
Einer Gilkyson (Redford) has shut down since the death of his only son 11 years earlier. He goes through the day to day task of taking care of his once thriving ranch by rote, while providing medical attention and friendship to his closest friend, Mitch Bradley (Freeman), who lost much of his independence after being mauled by a bear the year before. The pair, who have worked together on Einers ranch for 40+ years, are an odd couple. Ones still an optimist ready to tackle new adventures even while his body prohibits him from doing much more than sit in a comfy chair on the porch. The other still breathes but isnt really living.
Einers physically capable of doing anything, yet his spirit is so broken he has no desire to vary his activities or the energy to play nice with others. But when his former daughter-in-law, Jean (Lopez), shows up on his doorstep accompanied by her 11 year-old daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner), hes forced to deal with the news that hes a grandfather. Hes also forced to finally come to terms with the loss of his son and the hatred he has for the woman he holds responsible for his sons untimely death.
Writers Mark and Virginia Spragg and director Hallstrom carefully and deliberately walk the audience through An Unfinished Life. Minor plot details arent revealed in a flurry. Were afforded the opportunity to get to know a little of each of the lead characters before being introduced to the side plots involving boyfriends and a bear. Theres no rushing to tell a story. Only an unnecessary and silly romantic relationship between Lopez and Josh Lucas characters seems out of place in this otherwise tightly scripted story.
In truth, tightly scripted doesnt adequately describe Hallstroms latest effort. The dialogue has been pared down to the absolute bare minimum, which is a blessing. We arent subjected to lengthy discussions or monologues and instead are allowed to play the part of eavesdroppers into the lives of a couple of old friends who dont need to use a lot of words to communicate.
Overall, it's the quality of acting in An Unfinished Life that makes this film a cinematic treat. Surrounded, and in most cases overshadowed by superb performances from Redford, Freeman, Lucas, Damian Lewis (as the chain-smoking abusive boyfriend), and newcomer Becca Gardner, Lopez actually gives one of her best performances to date.
An Unfinished Life isn't a movie that makes a lasting impression. But it is a crisply acted, well-plotted film, refreshing in its lack of artifice and entertaining enough to be worthy of dropping a few bucks to check out while its still in theaters. Its also stunningly shot, which is a big plus in these days of shaky hand-held cameras and music video-style feature films.
An Unfinished Life is rated PG-13 for some violence including domestic abuse, and language.