An Unfinished Life is now open for Discussion

Our July 2007 film selection, An Unfinished Life, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary here are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting priveleges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


  1. Lasse Hallstrom is definitely a director drawn to character-driven dramas. He came upon a screenplay by the writing team of Mark and Virginia Spragg and he loved it. Not only were the male characters realistic and memorable, but the female characters were well written as well; especially the part of a young girl. Unlike films where the young female character had the primary point of view (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), this story just had a young girl whose relationship to all the primary characters carried the most dramatic weight. Hallstrom, a transplanted Swede, gained an international reputation with MY LIFE AS A DOG (1985). AN UNFINISHED LIFE (2005) continues to add to his strong string of hits, including WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993), THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999), CHOCOLAT (2000), and THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001). The lucky stiff is married to actress Lena Olin, and they live in America now.

    The plotline for AN UNFINISHED LIFE opens in Ohio. A battered single mother, Jean (Jennifer Lopez), flees her abusive boyfriend, Gary (Damian Lewis). With her young daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner), in tow, Jean embarks on a desperate road trip. Her old beater car breaks down after 300 miles, and they are forced to abandon many of their possessions. Frightened, broke, and hungry, the pair makes their way to Wyoming. They return to Jean’s home town, and drop in on her estranged father-in-law, Einer (Robert Redford). It seems that Einer did not know he had a grand daughter, and Griff had been told that her grandfather was dead. Remorse hung in the air regarding a decade old tragedy. Jean had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed her car, killing her husband. Einer had never forgiven her. The ranch was ramshackle, and Einer was struggling to make ends meet. There was only one ranch hand left, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), and he was crippled up from a bear attack

    After his son’s death, Einer became a roaring drunk. When Mitch was attacked by a grizzly, we discover, Einer was too inebriated to assist, and it nearly cost the ranch hand his life. Partly out of guilt, and out of 40 years of friendship, Einer took on the role of caregiver for Mitch. So every character had their massive regrets and secrets. As an interesting plot thread the massive grizzly that had attacked Mitch returned to the area. Oddly Mitch refused to let Einer destroy it. After the bear wandered into town, scaring half the populous, the local sheriff, Crane (Josh Lucas), along with some Fish & Game wardens tranquilized the big bear, and donated it to a local zoo for display; an odd choice at best and not too realistic. Obviously though, it was necessary to keep the bear alive, and on exhibit as a necessary dramatic catalyst within the swirl of tangled and troubled lives –assisting in the emotional changes many of the characters had to achieve.

    Robert Redford was excellent as Einer, refreshingly portraying a character his actual age. There was none of the matinee idol in this role. Redford’s actor pals, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood had already made their career transitions into older character parts –but here to fore Redford was still able to pull off those leading man roles. His Einer was irascible, but still likeable; obstinate, troubled, angry, capable of bursts of violence and yet always gentle and compassionate with Mitch. As Mitch, Morgan Freeman had less to do, but as one might expect, he did it very well. There is always such depth, such humanity in his acting that we never seem to catch him practicing his craft.

    Jennifer Lopez was very convincing as the grief-stricken widow, fleeing pregnant to avoid ridicule a decade earlier, raising her daughter without in-laws. Her Jean was personally flawed and filled with self-doubt and brimming with guilt. Some critics trashed her performance, only seeing her celebrity and not her fine characterization. The fact is Lopez works hard at her craft and regardless of her personal life, one should strive to forgo being judgmental, and let the work speak for itself. We need to remember that her breakthrough role in SELENA (1997) was already her tenth film. She has been making movies since 1987. This is an actress who stunned us in U-TURN (1997), and THE CELL (2000), and who we fell in love with after seeing her in SHALL WE DANCE (2004). Becca Gardner as young Griff was bang on the mark, never missing a perfect silent response. She is a very talented young lady and if she continues to act, very undoubtedly will thrill us with her future performances. But she still has to grow up and make some choices. Not all fine young actresses persevere and become a Jodi Foster.

    Hallstrom does a remarkable job with his actors. Josh Lucas and Camryn Manheim had wonderful moments of cameo in several scenes. Damien Lewis was much too convincing as the sleezeball boyfriend, taking a chance on being unlikable. Bart the Bear was an important character; very convincing in his debut role (he is actually Bart II). Perhaps the plot was a bit predictable and the tone mostly sentimental, but I found it also ruggedly realistic and a touch existential. They filmed the movie in British Columbia, on the high arid plateaus between the Cascades and the Rockies –but I bought it as Wyoming. I think the movie emerged as tasty mainstream entertainment –the heartwarming kind of film that Hollywood used to be famous for –a small story told large.


  2. A wonderful film of tradgedy and healing. Holds my current favorite line in a film by Morgan Freeman to Robert Redford. “You second generation immigrant, I am gonna put my good foot up your ass”.

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