Kiddie Coaster Drama

Movie review of An Unfinished Life

By Ramona Gonzales
Published on LatinoLA: September 14, 2005

Kiddie Coaster Drama

An Unfinished Life had all the makings of a good drama: two great actors (Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman), a tragic, sexy abused woman (Jennifer Lopez), a great dramatic director (Lasse Hallstrom ? Chocolat, Cider House Rules, What?s Eating Gilbert Grape) and a tale of love lost, the pains of guilt and resentment melting away with the love of a little girl. An emotional roller coaster ending in acceptance and a new lease on life should ensue. But, alas, all it amounted to was a $9.00 made for TV movie ? a ride on a kiddie coaster.

And the thing was I was actually rooting for la J-Lo this time around. Scoring a deal with Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who has made his bread and butter with small town drama films, it seemed she would reclaim her Out of Sight and Selena glory. Well, maybe next time.

The story, adapted by Virginia Korus Spragg and Mark Spragg based on his novel, also had potential: Single mother Jean (Lopez) widowed in a car accident over 10 years before, leaves an abusive relationship with her daughter Griff (Becca Gardner). With nowhere else to go, they seek refuge with her estranged father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford), a gritty, alcoholic rancher, who blames Jean for the death of his son, Griff killed in the accident. It had all the ingredients, but no flavor. And while the movie kept a consistent pace, it wasn?t rooted in any real feeling or emotion. It was like watching miso soup ? all the ingredients are good, but it just doesn't look very interesting.

As rare as it is to get the chance to adapt one?s own work in Hollywood, Spragg (who?s most recent film work was a made for TV movie in 1998) makes an argument for those execs who rally against it. Everything about the film was obvious, from Jean getting involved with the Sheriff, her job as a waitress in a local diner to Einar?s heart eventually melting because of the love of his granddaughter, a living connection to his son.

The real standout in the piece was Morgan Freeman. His performance as Mitch, Einar?s friend and patient was solid and genuine. He didn?t rely on emotional conventions the way the rest of the cast did (?I?m mad so I will shout now!?), but really ?went there.? Playing a character mauled by a bear leaves a lot of room for overkill, but he pulls it off so fresh and so clean.

It?s not that the film was bad. It?s that it lacked genuine feeling and emotion, kind of important element for a drama. It had the perfect pieces but they just didn?t fit together well. It?s hard to say why - the writing, dialogue, direction, any of those could have been the culprit. But in these times of $3.00/gallon gas to get to the theater, $9.00 tickets and sometimes $2.00 for parking, perhaps a little more effort wouldn?t hurt.

An Unfinished Life
Dir: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, Camryn Manheim and Introducing Becca Garnder
Screenplay by: Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg based on the Novel by Mark Spragg.

About Ramona Gonzales:

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