Jean (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother who finds herself in yet another abusive relationship. Desperate to escape and create a fresh start for her young daughter Griff (Becca Gardner), she lands on the doorstep of her cantankerous father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford). He harbors a deep resentment towards Jean and is less than thrilled to see her as he holds her responsible for his son’s death. With time, many of their old wounds are finally healed and they learn what it means to be a family.
An Unfinished Life tells a story about redemption and forgiveness, and although predictable and a little heavy-handed with its message, it is heart-warming and touching.
Lopez is known mostly for her romantic comedies so I thought it was a nice change of pace to see her in a project like this one. Robert Redford is of course a well-seasoned actor and I thought Lopez was able to hold her own in their tense scenes together. As Jean, she is a down on her luck woman who has made some mistakes in life- particularly in her love life. Though she and Einar are estranged, it is his home where she finds herself seeking safety and refuge.
Redford’s character is a hardened man; the loss of his only child has had a great impact on him and ultimately led to the dissolution of his marriage. He has blamed Jean for his son’s death for so long, that he has actually come to believe it in his heart. Because of his sour disposition, Einar’s only real friend is Mitch (Morgan Freeman), a wise man who is permanently disabled after a traumatic face-off with a local bear.
Mitch is a great foil for Einar. He is imaginative, well-mannered, and most importantly quick to forgive. The bear who mauled him is not put down, but roams the town free instead, much to the chagrin of Einar. I found this aspect of the story to be very unrealistic at first, but then I realized how powerful a symbol the bear actually was. At times it seemed almost as if he was taunting the two men, however, it is clear that Mitch made peace with the attack and the animal itself. On the other hand, Einar had not reconciled with his own set of issues and because of Jean’s arrival, he now has to face them head-on.
An Unfinished Life loses a little steam when it starts to focus on the budding
predictable unimaginative relationship between Jean and the local sheriff played by Josh Lucas. Jean’s character was already dealing with so much that it seemed messy to try and involve her with another man so soon. It didn’t help that Lopez and Lucas seemed to have little chemistry onscreen themselves.
The film is set in the beautiful and picturesque state of Wyoming and I appreciated the wide shots of the sprawling countryside. It provided a great backdrop for a film where characters are dealing with such heavy issues.
Overall, the story and acting is compelling enough for this to be a movie worth watching at least once. The direction is a little heavy-handed at times, but never becomes un-bearing to watch. If you’re interested in checking it out it is currently streaming on Netflix!
An Unfinished Life is directed by Lasse Halstrom and written by Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg. It stars: Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, Becca Gardner, Camryn Manheim, and Damian Lewis.
Do you have a favorite Robert Redford performance? Let me know in the comments below!