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An Unfinished Life
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"An Unfinished Life" is a film that gives us insights into a number of difficult questions:
1. Where did that portentous title come from? (Yes, I know, the novel.) It's one of those meaningless phrases that implies, let's see, truth, insight and profound understanding, when in fact it's just pretentious, which isn't at all the same thing as profound. Dare we point out that every life is unfinished until it ends?
2. Why is Morgan Freeman, in the twilight of his career, making such bad film choices? He's become the worst of all clichés: a black man who is the prescient voice of truth and reason in a white world. His delivery is so elegant, the timbre of his voice so soothing, that I would happily listen to him reading the phone book, but why try to act it out in a bad movie?
3. Does Robert Redford need a new agent? Somebody has to take the rap for all the bad films he's made in the past ten years, and why not his agent? Redford as a younger man was the classic film persona: a limited actor whom the camera loved, who could read lines with wit, whose power on screen was built on charm and looks. Today, at 69, without his looks and boyish charm, we see that he can't build a character outside of himself, the way that, say, Paul Newman (at 80) still does.
4. Can't someone give Jennifer Lopez a decent role? This underrated actress can play both deep and witty, two qualities we never see in "An Unfinished Life."
The film gives us a hellish series of clichés: Crusty old Wyoming rancher Redford spends his life mourning the death of his son, a rodeo rider who died when his wife (Lopez) lost control of the car - something Redford's never forgiven her for. She, meanwhile, lives with her daughter - Redford's granddaughter - and a boyfriend who beats her until she leaves with her daughter and heads for Redford's ranch to recoup. Wise old ranch hand Freeman understands it all and will slowly make Redford see how wrong he was to carry that hatred all these years.
Wait; I'm not done. There's the bear. What bear? The bear that mauled Freeman a year ago and crippled him, but now wanders through town eating garbage until he's tranquilized and put into a cage. But bears don't belong in cages, as Freeman tells us, and so Redford and his granddaughter must liberate the bear to roam free again in the mountains. Don't they know that bears with a taste for town garbage don't like to roam free in the mountains? Guess not.
And there's more, of course. Remember the abusive boyfriend? Naturally he shows up, not once but twice more, until sheriff Josh Lucas and Redford teach him a good lesson.
I believe that's everything. Thank you for listening. Oh, wait; I completely forgot to mention director Lasse Hallstrom, who once made fascinating, witty, thoughtful films like "My Life as a Dog" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Maybe it's time for a career change for Mr. Hallstrom too.
9/12/05 <! new pasted review ends on line above>