"An Unfinished Life": An unfinished story

Sept. 13, 2005, midnight | By Christine Kim | 18 years, 5 months ago

Director Lasse Halstrom's "An Unfinished Life" combines the beautiful country setting of a Wyoming ranch with brilliant acting to create one of this summer's most memorable, yet plot-less films. Although the movie has its flaws, Halstrom's ability to turn the seemingly typical cowboy romance story into a dramatic, emotional tale manages to be both heartwarming and moving.

The story follows Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), a woeful rancher who is embittered by his son's early death. Einar lives with his only friend, a mauled Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman), to whom he feels indebted to because of a grizzly bear accident that left Mitch crippled for the rest of his life. Einar and Mitch's lonely existence is interrupted by the arrival of the abused Jane Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) and her 11-year-old daughter Griff Gilkyson (Becca Gardner).

At first, Einar is inhospitable to his daughter-in-law, whom he blames for his son's tragic death. However, when he learns that Jane is running away from her violent and abusive boyfriend, Gary Watson (Damian Lewis), Einar sympathizes with her and reluctantly brings her into his home.

Although the start of the movie is rather enticing, the plot gradually deteriorates, mainly because of the movie's slow pace. Griff eventually wins over her grandfather's heart just as Jean slowly integrates herself into the welcoming society.

A not-so-unexpected visit by her ex-boyfriend Gary leaves Jane frightened and worried. She knows that deep inside, Einar whole-heartedly blames her for the car accident that killed his beloved son and disapproves of her relationships with countless men after the death of her husband. Eventually, Einar and Jane lock in a heated argument that drives her out of the house and leaves Einar drowned in guilt and agony.

Lopez's performance as a guilt-ridden single-mother is a surprising success — it is both convincing and effective. Her seductive pop-star image astonishingly adds to her role as a desperate, peeved woman. Redford pulls off a dramatic performance as a miserably lonely man who never managed to live past his son's tragic death, and as usual, Freeman succeeds in his supporting role as the ubiquitous "voice of reason" to Einar.

Gardner delivers a stunning performance in her first major screenplay. She truly brings out the desolate character of an innocent child who is desperately trying to find herself while fleeing from her mother's mistakes.

Although the film is filled with outstanding acting, its greatest flaw is its absence of a steady plot. The movie sets up smoothly but Halstrom fails to carry out the momentum. The slow pace and lack of action cut down on the plot and leave the viewer somewhat bored and apprehensive about the rest of the film, but the actors' amazing talents carry the movie through to the end.

Overall, the movie was no blockbuster, but it was definitely an unforgettable and moving story that left the viewer satisfied. Sure, the plot feels incomplete, but the actors deserve a standing ovation for their exceptional performances.

"An Unfinished Life" (107 minutes, area theatres) is rated PG-13 for some violence, including domestic abuse and profanity.

Christine Kim. Though she may look small and unassuming, Christine is actually the most vicious editor on Senior Staff. More »

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