This story about “An Unfinished Life” takes place mainly on a ranch in Wyoming, and is adapted from a novel of the same name written by Mark Spragg in 2004. It is obvious that the well-chosen cast has added to the appeal of this film which plays out in an understated fashion relationships that have undergone change and are also unfinished.
Robert Redford - Wikimedia
A crusty, embittered man named Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) is the owner of the ranch which has seen better days. He lives alone, except that his ranch hand Mitch (Morgan Freeman) has a smaller house on the property, and they look out for one another. Last year, Mitch was mauled by a bear and can no longer work the ranch. He is in constant pain and Einar gives him a shot of morphine every day to lessen his pain. He cooks Mitch’s meals and they play gin rummy several evenings a week. Einar stopped drinking altogether because he was drunk the day Mitch was attacked by the bear and was unable to help ward him off.
They used to have cows on the ranch, but they had to be sold just to be able to keep the ranch. Einar’s son Griffin and his wife helped out up until twelve years ago when the couple was in an automobile accident and Griffin was killed. His wife Jean (Jennifer Lopez) was driving the car, and Einar has never been able to forgive her for being responsible for the death of his son. Griffin’s burial place is on the farm, quite a distance from the house, and Einar visits it every day and speaks to his son about his problems. He has not spoken to or seen Jean since Griffin died.
Jennifer Lopez Wikimedia
Jean’s Big Decision
At the time of the accident, Jean was unaware that she was pregnant. She now has a daughter (Becca Gardner) whom she named Griff after her father. They live in Iowa, miles away from Einar, and Griff does not know that she has a grandfather. Jean has had a series of relationships with swains, some of whom have been abusive. Her present boyfriend Gary Winston (Damian Lewis) has been so abusive to Jean that she left him and had no place to go. Her last resort was to return to Einar’s ranch until she could get on her feet again, and then be gone.
Jean’s car broke down on their way to Wyoming, and she and Griff were able to hitch a ride from a motorcyclist, taking with them not much more than the clothes on their backs. Griff learned for the first time that she had a grandfather and that they were going to his ranch in Wyoming.
The Bear is Taken to the Zoo
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mitch spotted the bear coming close to him again, but he stood his ground and the bear walked away. The local sheriff, Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas) arranged to have the bear tranquilized and taken to the zoo where he would be caged and unable to hurt anyone any more.
Brown Bear - Wikimedia
Jean and Griff Reach the Ranch
Einer was surprised to see Jean and her daughter at his door. He was not happy to see her, and he was shocked that he had a granddaughter. He told Jean bluntly that he did not want her there. She explained that she did not want to be there either, but they just needed a place to stay for a month until she could make enough money to go elsewhere. Einar said there was a room in the basement that they could have. It was loaded with junk which Jean had to clean out before it was habitable for them.
Jean Finds a Job
Jean went into town the next day and was able to get a job as a waitress at a local café. Griff stayed back with Einer. There were many pictures displayed of her father Griffin, and she enjoyed looking at them. One afternoon, Einar had to go into town and asked Griff to make Mitch a sandwich and bring it to him in the little house out back at 11 o’clock. Einar was not able to start his car, so he had to drive his bike into town. He went to the café where Jean was working. She had made friends with the other waitress, Nina (Camryn Manheim). When he got there, Eimar noticed that three young boys were verbally abusing Nina and went over and beat up the leader of the group and gave him a good talking to. The other two fled.
Morgan Freeman Wikimedia
Jean Meets Sheriff Crane
Sheriff Crane was aware of the new attractive girl in town and patronized the café more frequently. Jean introduced herself and told him she was Einar’s daughter-in-law. She asked him one day if he could give her a ride home and he was happy to accommodate her. They became good friends. Jean brought some groceries home that evening with tips she had made that day, and told Einar that dinner would be ready in an hour.
Einar and Griff Form a Bond
With help from Griff, Einar was able to fix his car as she sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine when he gave her the signal. Mitch asked Einer to bring some meat to the bear at the zoo. Griff told him to pour honey on it because bears liked honey. At least, Winnie the Pooh liked honey. Einer took Griff along to the zoo and they started to become good friends. Griff also gave Einer’s cats a name because he had never named them. Einer also showed her how to ride a horse and to drive the car. He showed her Griffin’s gravesite, on which was inscribed “An Unfinished Life.” Griff was happy to have a positive male role model in her life. One day, when Einar was in town, Mitch was in great pain and needed a shot of morphine. He asked Griff if she could give him the shot. She had never done it before, and Mitch told her it went as smooth as if his own mother had done it.
Gary Comes to Town
Einar found some strange footprints around the ranch and learned from the Sheriff that Jean’s old boyfriend Gary was in town. He asked Griff if Gary smoked because there were cigarette butts scattered around also. Griff said he smoked a lot. Einer went into town to see if he could find Gary. The Sheriff told him that Gary was hanging out in the pool room. Einar told him if he saw him again, he would kill him. The Sheriff told Gary to get going also.
Jean Talks About the Accident
Einar told Jean he had just had a talk with her old boyfriend. He asked her to tell him about how the accident happened. Jean said they were driving home late one night and both were tired. They flipped a coin to see who would drive and Jean lost. She was so tired she fell asleep while driving. She admitted that she relived the accident every single day and blamed herself for Griffin’s death.
Josh Lucas - Wikimedia
Mitch Wants the Bear to be Set Free
Mitch had a talk with Einar and asked him to get the bear out of his cage. He realized that the bear was only doing what bears do. He believed that he should be free to roam the earth. Einar took Griff with him and devised a plan to lure the bear out of his cage and into a cage in Einar’s truck. He needed Griff’s help to turn the gear that would raise the door on the cage while Einar put some meat in his truck to lure the bear. It was working well when Griff’s hand slipped and the bear was able to get away. He ran after Einer and knocked him down, breaking two of Einer’s ribs before he walked off and back up to the mountain. Griff had to drive the car to get Einer to the hospital where he had to lie about how he had broken his ribs.
Gary Comes Back
Gary came back to town again. This time Einar meant business and went after him and brutally beat him up. When Gary tried to drive away, Einar shot at his four tires, making the car inoperable.
The lives of Einer, Jean and Griff were also unfinished because of Griffin’s death. This film is about forgiveness, family, love, sharing, and courage. I was uplifted for two hours while learning about this family. Although all of the events were foreseeable, it was a pleasure to be drawn into the lives of these everyday people, and to grieve and to laugh with them. I enjoyed every minute of it.