A review of “An Unfinished Life” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for mild violence and colorful language

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

 

 

Forgiveness is the overriding theme of this tremulous little drama set in the remote backwoods of northwestern Wyoming.

Jennifer Lopez stars as Jean Gilkyson, an everyday Jenny-from-the-block whose abusive boyfriend has roughed her up for the last time. Determined to protect herself and her precocious eleven-year old daughter (Becca Gardner as Griff), Jean sets out for the only haven left to her, the ranch of estranged ex-father-in-law Einer Gilkyson (Robert Redford).

Einer has troubles of his own: tending to the illness of longtime ranch hand Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and an unshakable grief over the death of his son over a decade ago.

Naturally Einer and Jean mix like the proverbial oil and water. He blames Jean for the death of his beloved boy and she herself wears that guilt like a shroud. Only the wise-beyond-her-years Griff and ornery Mitch are grounded enough to see through the thicket of pain on the thorny path to absolution.

“Life” does its best to keep the stickiest melodrama at bay, for the most part succeeding. Small plot points ebb and flow with dramatic potential, keeping it real (Einer’s fierce battle with the bottle and his surly rapport with his granddaughter) or not (Mitch’s unhealthy fixation on a killer bear).

J. Lo takes a lot of flak for her high-profile shenanigans but I’m a fan. Face to face with some stellar talent the woman more than holds her own. Redford is uncommonly deep as a grumpy codger battling unruly demons and he and Freeman display the comfortable camaraderie of compadres with forty years of friendship under their belts.

Newcomer Gardner brings fresh perspective to the lot, even when the story threatens to dissolve into conventional cinematic wisdom.