Hmmm. Here’s another Robert Redford film with all the ingredients of something genuine, but… somehow… sigh. He’s a maudlin old farmer, out in them thar hills, having a daily chat with his son’s gravestone (it’s under a tree on his farm). The boy died fifteen or so years ago in a car accident, the driver being daughter-in-law Jennifer Lopez. Lots of things are unfinished in this film, not least the angry relationships triggered by the boy’s death. But…sigh. I want to tell you this is the validation of an old man’s trials. He has raised a family, run a farm, stood by a damaged friend (Morgan Freeman in Noble God mode) and mourned a son…there should be lessons for us all in this. But I can’t, for this beautifully shot film misses its emotional marks for a pile of silly, small reasons that distract and annoy. And the title is a lie. It is about an unforgiven mistake, not An Unfinished Life.
Lopez is the daughter-in-law (Jean Gilkyson) who fucks up. She hasn’t been back to old Einar Gilkyson’s farm in all those years, has worked through a series of bad boyfriends, and landed at a volatile and violent Damien Lewis. One last slap and she goes on the run, local refuges being too well-known to local shits. She travels with bruises and young Griff Gilkyson – the daughter she’s never mentioned to Redford – to hide on his farm.
So. That’s the set-up. There’s a bear metaphor wandering around as well. It nearly killed Morgan Freeman’s Mitch the year before, so Redford is massaging his buddy’s back and injecting painkiller into his arse on a daily basis. The bear is captured and shoved in a horrible local zoo, all set to look like something trapped by its emotions, good to attack people coming near it be they good or bad. If the bear had its own farm, a crippled buddy and a grand-daughter it didn’t know about…okay, it wouldn’t be a metaphor any more. Or possibly an analogy. I get confused.
Then the bonding begins as young Griff and old Einar get to know each other. There’s lassoing, mechanics training and some warming of long-encrusted personalities. Redford maintains an air that isn’t so much grumpy as socially inept, and the girl beats him down. This cake needs new ingredients.
Lopez gets a job, gets off with the local cop (Josh Lucas as Crane giving good good-man and true), and flips from victim to glamorous blue-collar waitress in the toss of a coin that refuses to land on one side or the other. Lewis comes near and gets beaten away by an image-conscious Redford…a long-time short of Weinstein ironies. And Becca Gardner as young Griff corrals them all, mostly through the threat of going full-adolescent any moment. A poltergeist would’ve been welcome.
Morgan Freeman passes the time by staring into the distance presumably to attain telepathic oneness with the bear. Or something. He can hardly move, such are his injuries, so his journey is to forgive the bear and want it free. Oh, old Jack thought, that’s a bit like Redford’s journey to forgive Jean for the death of his son. Or something. A shame neither of the old men really gift the film a meaningful perspective beyond Noble God and petulance. It’s a shame the script didn’t gift it much more than old ingredients.
An Unfinished Life is efficiently made, full of relaxed performances, but doesn’t add up to much more than its parts. And they’re clichés to a bear.
Prettily made, but…unfinished.