A rancher reluctantly takes in his abused daughter-in-law and her unruly 12 year old son and they soon learn to forgive each other to heal old wounds.
A gruff grandfather living in a remote location forced to befriend his kin and confront long-held family resentments: from Heidi to Michael Caine’s Secondhand Lions, it’s a familiar theme. Like Secondhand Lions, this also throws in two old grouches for the price of one: Einar (Robert Redford) lives with his old friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), admittedly a slightly more sociable chap, but housebound and badly scarred after a run-in with a bear. And so little Griff (Becca Gardner) must break through the men’s harsh exteriors to find the softness within; her major obstacle being her mother Jean (Jennifer Lopez), who Einar holds responsible for his son’s death.
There are few surprises in An Unfinished Life, but for many that will be part of its charm. A gentle, occasionally humorous coming-of-age drama addressing issues of family and forgiveness, it’s mildly moving and offers up some decent performances. Romcom regular Lopez has a meatier character than usual in Jean, perpetual victim and flawed-yet-committed mother. Jean’s liaisons with local sheriff Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas) are pleasingly practical and unromantic — at least until things turn sentimental, with director Lasse Hallström unnecessarily hammering home his messages.
The central one concerns forgiveness, and is first signalled by a subplot in which Mitch learns that his ursine nemesis has been captured, becoming obsessed with its release. Both he and Einar must forgive the perceived architects of their downfall (the bear and Jean respectively). But making peace with Jean will require a conversation, something Einar isn’t very good at. In a nod to the Westerns the setting recalls, Einar solves most problems with his fists. Early on he’s shown punching rowdy sexist customers in the local diner to protect his friend Nina (Camryn Manheim), who really doesn’t look like she needs protecting. Such scenes rarely feel credible, although the script has the sense of humour to point this out. ”You’ve seen too many Westerns, old man,” sneers Jean’s abusive boyfriend Gary as Einar threatens him. “That doesn’t exactly work in your favour,” comes the retort.
With its fisticuffs and family dramas, An Unfinished Life has a certain soapy appeal, but it fails to dig as deep as Hallström’s previous work.
A wistful smalltown drama, this is predictable and pleasant, with enjoyable performances. It suffers from heavy-handed symbolism, but as an undemanding mainstream movie it has its simple pleasures.
Reviewed by Anna Smith