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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
CAN I REFILL YOUR BOTTOMLESS CUP OF COFFEE?: While working as a waitress in a local diner, Jean (Jennifer Lopez, left) becomes involved in a conversation with an unknown customer as her former father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford) looks on. end caption.

An Unfinished Life: Regret and Redemption Drives Family Reunion Drama

Movie Review by Kam Williams

Jean (Jennifer Lopez) has been stuck for two years in an abusive relationship with Gary (Damian Lewis), who seizes any excuse to abuse his girlfriend. After the latest beating leaves her black-and-blue, she is reminded by her daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner), of her promise to flee if he ever touched her again.

The two take temporary refuge at a battered women's center. Soon Gary shows up, insisting that she return home, making it clear that he won't take no for an answer. Wisely, Jean decides to disappear, so she quits her minimum wage job at the local dry cleaner and leaves town with her daughter.

They end up going, unnanounced, to stay with her former father-in-law, Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), in remote Ishawooa, Wyoming, where he owns a ranch. However, he is not enthusiastic about this sudden appearance of his former daughter-in-law, since he still hasn't forgiven her for driving the car in the accident that killed his 21 year-old son, also named Griff.

However, Einar can't resist his young granddaughter whom he didn't know even existed, especially since she resembles her late father. He takes them in, though we see that he has never managed to move past the loss, and makes a daily, ritualistic visit to his son's grave.

The retired cowboy divides his days between tending to a few animals and caring for Mitch (Morgan Freeman), a hired hand in need of morphine injections after he was mauled by a grizzly bear about a year ago.

Nina (Camryn Manheim), gives Jean a job as a waitress at her diner. Nina also meets Crane (Josh Lucas), the handsome sheriff who protects her from a stalker.

This overplotted scenario underpins An Unfinished Life, a modern-day Western from three-time Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallstrom who has also directed The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, My Life As a Dog, Chocolat, and The Shipping News.

This movie is more memorable for a Hallstrom hallmark, i.e. visually-enchanting cinematography, than for its storyline. The film's distracting flaw is simply that Jennifer Lopez is outclassed by co-stars Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman.

While she has proven herself capable of handling formulaic romantic comedies, Jennifer Lopez is not ready for material calling for more emotional depth.

Finally, a quick memo to Freeman, who turns in a decent performance. For the third time this year (in addition to Million Dollar Baby and Danny the Dog), he plays the role of the kindly, pitiable, impoverished, physically-disabled philosopher full of sage advice for others that he never puts to use on his own behalf. Maybe it's time to try a different role lest you become hopelessly typecast.

Although, An Unfinished Life doesn't measure up to the best of Lasse Hallstrom's work, it is, nonetheless, a beautifully filmed panoramic production with a plot compelling enough to recommend.

Very Good (3 stars). Rating: PG-13 for profanity, domestic violence, and mature themes. Running time: 107 minutes. Studio: Miramax Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.



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