Reviews

An Unfinished Life (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

For his part, Lasse Hallström likes the subtler strokes, as the scene when Redford sits in his truck and is unable to start it.


An Unfinished Life

Director: #246;m
Cast: Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Camryn Manheim, Joshua Lucas
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Miramax
Display Artist: Lasse Hallström
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-04-11
I've always been interested in real life stories and trying to portray real life. I like documentaries, I like anything real, and trying to observe and comment on human behavior, and make movies where we recognize themselves.
-- Lasse Hallström, commentary track

They call 'em accidents to make the guilty feel better.
-- Einar (Robert Redford)

"Let's see if I can remember," says Lasse Hallström as he begins to describe An Unfinished Life for the DVD commentary track. His affection for the project and characters is plain from the start: Einar Gilkyson, played by Robert Redford, is of Swedish descent, and the details of his Wyoming home and habits reflect Hallström's experiences. "Robert Redford, an idol of mine," he muses as the film begins, "I've been following his career for many years from Sweden, before I moved to the U.S. in 1997."

The mythology of the West as a land of hardy, stoic immigrants makes sense in Redford's body, which is surely weathered, if still sturdy. Speaking on a separate track spliced into Hallström's, the director's longtime husband-and-wife collaborators, producer Leslie Holleran and editor Andrew Mondshein both remark Einar's reserve. "How cranky can Einar be and still keep him vulnerable, human, and sympathetic?" asks Holleran as she watches the character clump around the kitchen and his just-met 11-year-old daughter Griff (Becca Gardner), tries to keep out of his way. "We talked about that, and we were of a mind to say, Redford is always so likable as an actor that you can take it all the way out to the edge and be rough with a child and not be sharing and giving and still make that hairpin turn and come back and have a redemption."

The redemption is the corny and predictable part, but the route to it is occasionally compelling, owing to Redford's interactions with young Griff and also his best friend, Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Once a ranch hand, Mitch was mauled and badly scarred by a bear a year before, and Einar feels all kinds of guilt (the causal event is revealed late in the film, as if the plot specifics tell you anything you don't already know). Watching them together, as Einar administers Mitch's daily dose of morphine, Holleran pronounces, "Men of fewer words, they're not needed."

For his part, Hallström likes the subtler strokes, as when Redford sits in his truck and is unable to start it, his face shadowed by his cowboy hat, the truck pitched to create a canted frame, and then, briefly, his face hidden altogether as he leans on the steering wheel ("Goddamnit," he mutters). "You just believe every second of that," notes Hallström, and he's right: it's a scene that doesn't precisely move the story, but expands on Einar, his sense of gruff independence, his sense that the diurnal obstacles never stop. (The DVD's requisite making-of documentary suggests much the same thing, but takes eight minutes instead of Redford's elegant 30 seconds.

Einar, the film shows repeatedly, is as damaged emotionally as Mitch is physically, owing mostly to the death of his excellent rodeo rider son, Griffin, in a car accident some 12 years ago. Unforgivably at the wheel, Griffin's wife Jean (Jennifer Lopez), left town, not telling anyone she was pregnant at the time. And now, following a series of bad choices -- including

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.