review for An Unfinished Life on AllMovie

An Unfinished Life (2005)
by Derek Armstrong review

With a powerhouse cast that should have spoken to multiple demographics -- Jennifer Lopez for the hip-hop generation, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman for their parents -- you'd think that someone would have seen An Unfinished Life. The pedigree of director Lasse Hallström should have only helped. Yet An Unfinished Life had an unfinished box office, amassing a paltry 8.5 million dollars in domestic receipts. Granted, it isn't anything we haven't seen before. An unconventional family unit -- related by blood, by marriage, and by friendship -- nurses both physical and emotional wounds in the pastoral setting of a Wyoming ranch, and there are heavy social issues aplenty, ranging from the topical (domestic abuse and alcoholism) to the timeless (guilt, blame, alienation, neglect). Yet there's something about this film that's greater than the limitations of a quick synopsis, and it's likely attributable to the names listed above. Redford and Freeman are memorable as two fiftysomethings with vastly different approaches to the person or thing that caused them pain. While Redford pathologically refuses to forgive his daughter-in-law (Lopez) for a tragic car accident more than a decade earlier, Freeman maintains an uncommonly humane outlook on the bear that mauled him, even with those physical wounds still healing. Lopez does credible work trying to remain stoical in the face of her guilt, and child actor Becca Gardner is a true find as the youngest in this emotionally broken clan. If there's any complaint about Mark and Virginia Spragg's script, based on Mark Spragg's book, it's that it focuses too intensely on pain as one of life's constants; even a secondary character, played by Camryn Manheim, is coping with the loss of a child. Yet for those in the audience who find themselves in similarly painful circumstances, this contemplative work should provide them perspective, enrichment, and comfort.