2005-09-30 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Actor Robert Redford sheds his pretty-boy image playing a curmudgeon cowboy in a film which, despite its recent release, is almost as timeworn as its “Rooster Cogburn” lead character.

After two years on the shelf because of Miramax’s change-of-business problems, “An Unfinished Life,” appears a mishmash of many movies. The most unfair comparison will be to “Million Dollar Baby,” because that Oscar winner was made after “Life.”

Yet, Einar Gilkyson (Redford) has much the same relationship to his disabled sidekick, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), as does Clint Eastwood’s boxing trainer to his disabled sidekick (Freeman, again) in “Baby.” Both (Redford and Eastwood) are devoted to their buddies because they feel responsible for their injuries.

Into the “Life/Baby” mix comes a young girl, with whom the old guys bond, in a heart-softening way. The movies part company, plot-wise, at this point.

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”), “Life” features strong performances, particularly from Redford doing anger and bitterness better than he’s ever done before. The young girl, who pulls his heartstrings, is 11-year-old Griff (newcomer Becca Gardner), who is brought to him by daughter-in-law Jean (a restrained Jennifer Lopez) and is introduced as the granddaughter he never knew he had.

Einar has soured on life and his daughter-in-law because he lost his only son in a car accident where Jean was the driver. She and Griff show up at his rundown Wyoming ranch to escape from her abusive boyfriend, Gary (Damian Lewis).

With tension mounting between the dysfunctional family members, the outside world threatens in the form of vengeful Gary and a hungry bear (Bart from “The Bear’s”), the same creature that years ago mauled Mitch while Einar was blind drunk.

The bear wouldn’t be a problem, except that Einar and Griff release the bear from a local zoo at saint-like Mitch’s request.

The plotlines pull together in the most predicable manner, which is the film’s ultimate undoing. Still, “Life” is engrossing, largely due to the potent charisma of its cast.

With a minimal marketing push and a limited release, “An Unfinished Life” is likely to be in circulation for only a fraction of the time it sat on the Miramax shelf.

It’s unfortunate. Despite its star power, “An Unfinished Life” may be forgotten before it has a chance to start.

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