December 9, 2005 -- “An Unfinished Life” is a film about a family trying to mend broken relationships on a ranch in Wyoming. I avoided seeing this film for a time because the plot sounded heavy and depressing. It turns out to be a lot lighter than than I expected it to be. It actually has a lot of humor in it. The film also features one of my favorite actors, Bart the Bear, along with smaller actors like Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez. What's not to like?
The story has Jean Gilkyson (played by Jennifer Lopez of “Monster In Law”) and her daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner) leaving Jean's abusive boyfriend. They start driving across the country to get away. When their car breaks down, Jean, who is almost broke, heads to Wyoming by bus where her father-in-law lives. It is the last place she wants to be, but she has run out of options. When Jean and Griff arrive at the ranch, they are met by Griff's gruff grandfather, Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford of “Spy Game”). Einar reluctantly agrees to take them in until Jean has earned enough money to move on. Tension is high between Jean and Einar because he blames her for the death of his son in a car accident. There is one friendly person at the ranch, Einar's hired man, Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman of “Million Dollar Baby”). Mitch has been badly mauled by a bear and needs frequent medical attention.
While Jean and Einar continue their abrasive ways toward each other, Griff becomes friends with both Einar and Mitch and she begins to feel at home on the ranch. Griff reminds Einar of his son and he begins to mellow. Jean gets a job in a nearby town and becomes friends with the local sheriff, (Josh Lucas). Trouble begins when her old boyfriend tracks her down and begins to stalk her. The bear (Bart the bear) who mauled Mitch also returns to the ranch. Soon everyone will have to face old fears and old problems again. The film is about forgiveness and new beginnings and letting go of old grudges. It is an easygoing story with gentle good humor. It is not overly melodramatic. Things work themselves out in a quiet, logical, satisfying way.
Redford and Freeman handle their roles like the old pros they are. Each of them is as cantankerous and stubborn as one would expect from such characters. Lopez also turns in a good performance as a woman who has had to put up with a lot of abuse and attitude in her life. She has had all she can take and won't put up with any more. She gives a memorable speech to two troublesome customers in the cafe where she works about how she has run out of patience. This is a strong character and Lopez gives a suitably strong performance. Also good is Becca Gardner, who plays a girl who is tired of moving around. She wants a home and people she can depend on. She finds that on the ranch with Einar and Mitch. She makes it clear to her mother that she can recognize a good thing when she sees it, even if her mother cannot. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.