Griff has a Gruff Gramps
It makes me smile when I watch something like "An Unfinished Life" not just because it is a good movie but because of the way people treat it. What I mean by that is here we have a drama set on a ranch where an old cowboy who is bitter at the death of his son finding himself not only having to deal with his former daughter-in-law who he blames for his son's death but also a granddaughter he doesn't know about. It is a storyline which wouldn't feel out of place as a Hallmark TV movie with it's emotional undercurrent of family tension and forgiveness set on a ranch but it is not, this is a big screen movie with a big screen director and a big screen cast which includes Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez and Josh Lucas. And because it has the finesse which comes from a big production with big stars people warm to it more than they do TV movies despite it being very similar.
Tired of being beaten by her violent boyfriend Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez - Monster-in-law) and daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) from a previous marriage leave and head to Wyoming where her former father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford - The Clearing) lives on a ranch. Despite blaming Jean for the death of his son and her former husband on discovering he has a granddaughter he never knew about it agrees to let them stay on the ranch he shares with Mitch (Morgan Freeman - Batman Begins) who ever since being attacked by a bear has depended on Einar to look after him. Whilst things are initially awkward Einar starts to bond with Griff whilst Mitch finds himself trying to confront his fears and move on from the savaging which has left him crippled and scarred.
"An Unfinished Life" is a movie quite simply about facing up to the past and forgiving. As such the main part of the movie is the obvious situation which arises when Jean and her daughter Griff show up at Einar's ranch, on the run from her boyfriend Gary who is controlling and violent. I say obvious because as we quickly come to realise Einar holds Jean responsible for the death of his son and is not only cold to her but over the years he has turned into quite a bitter man. And as such it is little surprise when despite having his guard up Einar warms to young Griff and in doing so faces up to his own issues, his issues with Jean and the years of hurt which has turned him in to a cantankerous old sod. At the same time this process of healing, which is what goes on here, sees Jean also facing up to her own guilt over the death of Einar's son, a guilt which has lead to bad choices.
Alongside this we also have the story of Mitch who lives with Einar and who since being attacked by the bear has relied on Einar to help him through the day. It is again a story of forgiveness and facing the past as Mitch is not so much haunted by the bear but controlled by it especially as it is still around. Basically Mitch has to face his fear to move on which leads to various escapades with the bear as since the accident Mitch has been confined to the ranch. And flowing though out this drama of forgiveness we have sub stories such as the threat of Gary showing up in town, Jean's relationship which forms with Sheriff Curtis as well as a few other minor subplots which flesh the drama out.
Now the thing which makes this so watch able is the easy tone which director Lasse HallstrÃ¶m employs. There is a mix of emotional drama, gritty drama and humour which flow effortless together so you can have a scene which seems to be floating along suddenly making you sit up or laugh. And the laugh moments are great such as when young Griff thinks that Einar and Mitch are a couple with the classic line "I hade a lesbian music teacher". It makes it in a way charming because the humour mixed with the warmth of the story no matter how obvious works.
What also works is the casting especially with actors who appear to have been set free from their past. Robert Redford as Einar looks likes a man who has become cantankerous, he is unkempt, dirty and looks like he has spent years inside of a bottle and it works, it also works that this isn't Redford doing romantic but playing a man who is harbouring a lot of pain. Jennifer Lopez is just as good as Jean because this isn't big star Lopez trading on who she is rather playing a character who is also harbouring hurt. But it is Morgan Freeman who really impresses as Mitch which is quite ironic because this is Freeman doing what he does so well in a lot of movies, playing the down to earth man with that sage like quality as a student of life. Although Becca Gardner also deserves praise for delivering such an unaffected performance as young Griff certainly not daunted by the calibre of her co-stars.
What this all boils down to is that "An Unfinished Life" whilst being ultimately very obvious is a charming, fun movie about family forgiveness. If you enjoy the Hallmark movies which take place on a ranch then you are going to love this.