One of the last films from Miramax that was released as the studio cleaned out its shelves when the Weinstein Brothers left last year, "An Unfinished Life" isn't anything remarkable, but it does at least offer a fine set of performances from a set of mostly reliable actors. The picture stars Jennifer Lopez as Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) who, at the opening of the film, is on the run from her abusive boyfriend. She turns the car towards the house of Einar (Robert Redford), her former father-in-law who doesn't know she's coming and isn't aware that he has a granddaughter, Griff (Becca Gardner). He doesn't want her there (he blames her for the death of his son in an accident several years prior), but he realizes they have nowhere else to turn.
Jean soon finds herself settling into the small town (it's supposed to be Wyoming, but the picture was filmed in British Columbia), working at the local diner and starting up a relationship with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas). Additionally, Einar starts to get along well his granddaughter, who, when asked by Einar if her mother told her that her father had died, responds with, "Yeah, but she said you were dead, too."
"An Unfinished Life" is certainly predictable (and it should come as no surprise that we even get a few Big Emotional Speeches), not once going the route I least expected it to. There's no question that Jean's abusive boyfriend will track her down before being run out of town. There's no question that Einar will eventually find forgiveness for Jean. There's no question that Einar and former ranch hand Mitch (Morgan Freeman) - who was once mauled by a bear that, before being captured, is still wandering the neighborhood - will bicker like the best of old friends.
Although the film goes over familiar ground at every step, the performances do manage to elevate matters quite a bit. Redford and Freeman are perfect as Grumpy Older Men, and while most of the film is dramatic, they have a few moments of comedy that are played well. A great little moment happens early in the picture, as another local spots Redford's character while driving along. Instead of in his usual truck (broken down again), he's riding a bike. With the local poking fun, Redford's character finally snaps back, "I'm just out here training for a goddamn marathon." It's not that hilarious in theory, but the scene is perfectly played and Redford's delivery is priceless. It helps that Redford (and Freeman) look as if they're enjoying playing their rather relaxed (neither are required to do all that much heavy lifting here, yet they still manage to make some cliched dialogue sound better than it is), outdoorsy roles. Jennifer Lopez is pretty good here, and it's nice to see her showing some potential again. Josh Lucas and Becca Gardiner offer very good supporting efforts, as well.
Low-key, deliberately paced and beautifully shot, "Unfinished Life" is, at its core, a pretty soapy drama. However, the film's quiet, simple nature and fine performances make what could have been a made-for-TV style drama into a more watchable picture. It definitely doesn't achieve greatness, but it's enjoyable enough fare.
VIDEO: "Unfinished Life" is presented by Miramax in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an enjoyable presentation that's kept from greatness by a few issues. Sharpness and detail are mostly respectable, but there are some minor instances of softness on occasion.
Some minor-to-mild edge enhancement was certainly noticed at times, but didn't cause a major distraction. Additionally, a couple of tiny instances of pixelation were also spotted. On a positive note, the print looked crisp and clean, with no specks, marks, dirt or other issues. Colors remained bright and natural, with nice saturation and no concerns.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation remained dialogue-driven throughout the proceedings, with the surrounds really not getting much use at all. Audio quality remained fine throughout, with a crisp score and clear dialogue that never sounded distorted or otherwise problematic.
EXTRAS: We get a commentary from director Lasse Hallstrom, producer Leslie Holleran and editor Andrew Mondshein. All three have worked together before, and Holleran and Mondshein are married. The three contribute a fine track that, despite a few stretches of silence, does provide a good deal of information on casting, shooting on location, character/story issues and changes in the script that occured.
Additionally, we get a promotional "making of" (approx. 9 minutes) piece, as well as a short featurette on training co-star Bart the Bear ("Bart II"). Finally, there's a brief stills gallery.
Final Thoughts: The material is predictable at every step, but Redford and Freeman are terrific and Hallstrom's picture won me over just enough of the time. The DVD presentation offers satisfactory audio/video, as well as a fine set of supplements. A moderately recommended rental for fans of the actors.
The Film B-