An Unfinished Life

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I had no idea that “An Unfinished Life” had sat on the shelves of Miramax for a couple of years until I read another review of the film. Ok, so what? Could it be that this movie is now seeing the light of day because Morgan Freeman won an Oscar in “Million Dollar Baby” last year? Possibly. But all that aside, movies that star Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman aren’t exactly “B” films, are they? “An Unfinished Life” is a slow film that unwinds even slower and director Lasse Hallstrom has a flair for making good, character-rich dramas that all unwind in the same way. Hallstrom is probably best-known for the tongue-in-cheek “Chocolat” starring Johnny Depp. Perhaps a very overlooked movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” again starring Depp and a younger Leonardo DiCaprio. If you’re a fan of Hallstrom’s style of direction, you’ll be right at home here and let’s give Jennifer Lopez a break – she can actually act.

We meet Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) as she’s on her way out of an abusive relationship with Gary (Damian Lewis of “Band of Brothers” fame). She takes her daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner) and leaves town, eventually ending up in Ishawooa, Wyoming. It’s an out of the way place that looks like it should be on a postcard. Jean was married to Griffin who has died and Einar (Robert Redford) is her estranged father-in-law. Einar is a grumpy old man who lives and works on the dilapidated farm with his long time friend and ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Mitch had been mauled by a bear a year earlier and Einar takes care of him. Jean needs a place to take refuge and also enlightens Einar to the fact that he has a granddaughter. It’s natural to assume that his guard will be let down and he’ll stop blaming Jean for the loss of his son. That assumption would be correct.

“An Unfinished Life” could mean a number of different things, but it’s a movie that I wasn’t really looking forward to watching. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed it. Redford, like Clint Eastwood, is an actor/director and is at his best when he’s playing it low-key. If you’re looking for an action-packed movie then you’ll most likely not find it here. There’s a couple of fist fights, a few gun shots and some rather tense scenes involving the bear (played by “Bart the Bear” from “The Bear” and “The Edge”). I was reminded of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” in the sense that we see these people in a small town, intrude on their lives and then the movie ends. Knowing full well that the characters will keep going along just as they had been. Fans of Hallstrom’s work will undoubtedly be attracted to this as well as “Casanova”, “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat”.

Video: How does it look?

“An Unfinished Life” is presented in a gorgeous 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer that really shows off the lavish Wyoming (Canadian, actually) countryside. The detail is crisp and vivid with an expansive color palette. Flesh tones are warm and natural and despite a few scenes that have a somewhat soft look to them, I was hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the way this looked. Disney has done a great job with this transfer and it’s amazing to look at.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio is a fairly standard Dolby Digital 5.1 offering and for the most part, it sounds like a surround mix. The movie is dialogue driven except for a few instances in which all five channels come out to play! Surrounds kick in from time to time, but your center channel will be doing most of the work here. It’s not bad by any means, but nothing really stood out about it either.

Supplements: What are the extras?

“An Unfinished Life” has a few supplements that are worthwhile. The audio commentary by Hallstrom is insightful and informative and he tells of the cast and the delay in getting the movie released. There are a few featurettes with the first being the obligatory “Making of An Unfinished Life” and the second being far more interesting. The second is “Training Bart the Bear” in which we see his trainer and how talented this animal actor actually is. There’s also a still gallery of photos.

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