AN UNFINISHED LIFE
BIG THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
Two cowboys caring for each other in a beautiful landscape. No, this is not Brokeback Mountain. AN UNFINISHED LIFE gives us a story about two men (Robert Redford as Einar and Morgan Freeman as Mitch), and the examination of a loving relationship between friends, men who care for each other in a profound way …but it’s much more than that.
This story begins with Einar’s daughter-in-law, Jean (Jennifer Lopez), coming back to live on Einar and Mitch’s Wyoming ranch. Einar’s son (Jean’s husband) was killed several years ago during a car accident in which Jean was the driver. Much guilt lay between Einar and his former daughter-in-law. But when Jean arrives at the ranch, in tow she has her daughter Griff, the granddaughter Einar never knew about. Bruised and battered from an abusive relationship, Jean hopes she’ll find some respite in the only place she has left to go.
Daughter/granddaughter Griff (Becca Gardner) is a well-behaved young girl who helps soften the blow of their unexpected arrival at the Wyoming ranch. She looks a lot like Einar’s dead son, apparently. Griff slowly enters Einar’s life and we see a tempering of emotions.
Mitch (Morgan Freeman) is a long-time friend and cowhand of Einar’s. He was also recently mauled by a grizzly and needs a lot of care …which Einar provides. This is the love story, but a heterosexual one, a love story of two men who care deeply for one another as if they were kin. Einar helps Mitch bathe, gives him his pain medication injections, helps him walk to chairs and outside occasionally, and cleans his bed. This is the softer side of Einar that the audience sees and we know it will emerge once Griff and Jean get further into his life.
Then there’s the grizzly (Bart the Bear). The bear that attacked Mitch still roams the ranch, and Mitch feels a certain connection with it. The mauling has left scars on the outside of his body as well as the inside. Mitch won’t let go of the bear and asks Einar to do several things for him (“Feed the bear” “Take me to see it”). The bear becomes a metaphor for the unfinished lives of all the characters in the movie, Mitch’s life being the one that’s come closest to being finished.
The other main character – which we never see – is Einar’s son who happens to be buried on the property. Einar visits the grave often and speaks in hushed tones to the headstone. It is here, in these quiet moments, that we come to understand how the ending of this one young man’s life ended up stopping everyone else’s. Jean’s (his wife) life stopped because of her guilt over the car accident in which she was the driver. Einar for losing his one and only son whom he felt he should’ve protected. Mitch for allowing Einar to sink into this fit of despair. And Griff for allowing her mother to remain in an abusive relationship too long.
But once the family comes together, their disjointed nature takes on a sense of meaning for all of them, and their lives again move forward.
Robert Redford plays his best role to date as the curmudgeon cowboy who doesn’t forgive easily but has a loving nature tucked deep down inside. His grumbled comments fit in perfectly with his embittered character, Einar.
Morgan Freeman is just Morgan Freeman. But he’s such a powerful presence onscreen that it’s tough not to enjoy every word he speaks and every mannerism. His scarred body and relationship with the bear make for some very powerful moments.
Jennifer Lopez pulls in her best performance. Her interactions with Mr. Redford were strong enough to make me understand why her rough life led her back to such an uncomfortable spot on the ranch.
Many viewers may not like An Unfinished Life because of its slow pace, its common themes and its lack of action. This is a family story that delves deep into the meaning of letting life continue and how to allow healing in a time when it seems impossible.
It’s a great character movie with some of the more notable performances in a dramatic role that I’ve seen in quite a while.