It takes a lot for Jennifer Lopez to be tolerable these days. To be quite honest, I can’t even look at the woman anymore. As a result, I was a little hesitant to watch An Unfinished Life. Ultimately I did, because Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman are just too good to not surrender an hour and forty-eight minutes of my time.
In a purely supportive role that is easily buried beneath Redford and Freeman, Lopez was actually good. I was reminded of the Lopez I remembered from Out of Sight, the film that made her a star, not the ridiculous J.Lo that was created by her stardom. And she stood well against the other actors. An Unfinished Life is filled with strong performances, which shouldn’t be surprising, since the cast consists of some of the most talented people around.
Lopez plays Jean, a single mother raising a young daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner). Escaping an abusive boyfriend, she runs away to the only place she can — her father-in-law, Einar (Redford). The two have a contentious relationship, however. He blames her for her death of his son. He becomes willing to let them stay when he discovers that he has a granddaughter he never knew existed. Freeman plays Mitch, Einar’s closest friend who was crippled after being attacked by an ill-tempered bear. As familial tensions boil, the abusive boyfriend comes looking for Jean, and the ill-tempered bear is captured and put in a makeshift zoo.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film. It’s built on well constructed characters, including Redford’s bitter Einar; Lopez’ self-destructive Jean; Freeman’s handicapped Mitch; even the young Gardner, whose Griff (odd name for a girl, but she’s named after her father) is stuck in the middle of it all. Josh Lucas, a fine actor and underappreciated talent, is likable as the local sheriff. It’s amazing what happens when you get good writing, good actors, and a director that knows what to do with them. Lasse Hallström does a great job of guiding all these pieces, as he did with the great Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.
One thing I liked about this film was that it knew when to have the characters shut up. A weakness I find in some movies is they feel that characters need to be talking all the time. But this film has plenty of subtext and subtle visual moments that tell more in a brief moment than words ever could.
The DVD has only a scattering of extras, including a commentary that features Hallström, producer Leslie Holleran and editor Andrew Mondshein. There’s a standard “making of” featurette, along with a piece about Bart the Bear.