Release Date:  September 9, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (violence including domestic abuse, sex, and language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  107 minutes
Director:  Lasse Hallstrom
Actors:  Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, Damian Lewis, Camryn Manheim, and Becca Gardner

In “An Unfinished Life,” an abused woman, desperate to provide care for her daughter, moves in with her father in-law from whom she is estranged, and the two must learn to forgive each other and heal old wounds. But to see such an important transformation unfold, the audience must endure excessive foul language, a physical abuse subplot, a sex scene and some spotty character development.  Might not be worth the price of a ticket.

The movie opens with a bruised and beaten woman, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez), sitting at a table with her sullen daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner), while her abusive boyfriend Gary (Damien Lewis) screams at her.  Mother and daughter leave the creep the next morning, mulling over several possible destinations until Jean realizes that their limited funds are forcing them to Wyoming, where the grandfather (Griff never knew about) lives.

Breathtaking scenes of Wyoming follow, including helicopter shots of winding rivers, dramatic canyons and quaint farming communities. At this point viewers might be hopeful, thinking the drama will unfold into something glorious like “A River Runs Through It” or even “Second Hand Lions.” But alas, this is not to be.

In Wyoming, we meet the hateful, grumpy, unwelcoming Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), who is angry and bitter with Jean because she was driving the car when his son was killed in an accident over a decade earlier. He begrudgingly lets her and his granddaughter, Griff (to whom he only is a bit nicer), stay in a cluttered back room of the farmhouse.

Soon Jean and Griff discover that Einar is also hosting another tenant, a man named Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who is recovering from a severe bear mauling. Einar cares for Mitch every day – making his meals, giving him morphine shots, and playing board and card games with him at night. Though Mitch is in constant pain, he is good-natured, grateful and content, but unable to turn Einar into a nice person. Apparently the grudges and pain go deeper than anyone thought.

Meanwhile, the townspeople have caught the bear that mauled Mitch, and they’ve put him on display in a cage. Mitch wants to visit the bear and eventually asks Einar to release it into the wild. Throughout the rest of movie, the bear represents “the forgiven,” and his circumstances parallel the drama of one of the key characters.

A third sub-plot involves Jean’s escape from the stalking, abusing boyfriend, and her rush into the arms – and bed – of her new home’s sheriff, Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas). She seduces him on the first date, and for the remainder of the story he carries sort of a stunned expression on his face, as if he’s not sure how he feels about Jean or his role as the new boyfriend.

The three plot lines weave together as the characters slowly seek to find a place of acceptance and forgiveness.

“An Unfinished Life” does have some funny moments, evoking many chuckles from the audience.  For instance, when Einar’s truck won’t start, he rides a bike into town.  A farmer pulls up next to him and says, “I like your bike. You know, without that orange flag on the back, you might look ridiculous.” The acting is great – especially by 11-year-old Becca Gardner – the humor is dry and there are several poignant scenes where issues are addressed well. But in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s not quite enough to overcome the excessive foul language, with seventeen profanities and thirty-seven obscenities, the slow pace and some character development issues. And the fact that the protagonist seduces the sheriff, whom she doesn’t know (and the two have sex immediately in a Jeep), is enough to keep my teens from seeing the film.

The theme of forgiveness in "An Unfinished Life" is commendable, and it’s fun to see how great Robert Redford still looks, but overall, the movie ranks an “almost.”

AUDIENCE:  Adults

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Morphine injections, liquor, beer
  • Language/Profanity:  17 profanities and 37 obscenities; a negative slur on evangelicals
  • Sex/Nudity:  Couple has casual, first-date sex in back of Jeep; discussions about homosexual themes
  • Violence:  Abusive boyfriend hits and stalks girl; guy beats up boyfriend; gunfire shot, etc.