Unfinished Life
I’m not kidding. They cast Jennifer Lopez.

Golden Mug
NOMINEE: Original Screenplay (Mark Spragg & Virginia Korus Spragg), Cinematography (Oliver Stapleton)

Theatrical Release Date: 09/09/2005
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Josh Lucas, Becca Gardner

Amid the fire sale that is the end of Miramax, at least as far as the Weinstein’s are concerned, comes the latest effort from Lasse Hallström, “An Unfinished Life”. His impressive track record of “My Life As A Dog”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, “The Cider House Rules”, “Chocolat” and “The Shipping News” is one of the most consistent I can pull off the top of my head. Even the great Spielbergo throws in “1941” and “A.I.” between Academy Award winning World War II films.

To help ensure celluloid gold, Hallstrom enlisted Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman. Their acting caliber is so high I’d probably enjoy a night of them reading the phone book to each other. Sprinkled into the mix is J Lo. Back off the block the Bennifer situation created, she returns to a dramatic role she can handle since it’s written by someone with over an 8th grade education.

While everyone cringes at the memory of “Gigli”, don’t let that overshadow her efforts in good films like “Selena” and “Out of Sight”. And in this film, Lopez did a nice job of furthering the tension between her character and Redford’s, playing the widow of Redford’s son.

That being said, she could have been replaced by any actress and it would have worked fine. It probably would have been better to use an unknown or up and comer, but when they made this film a few years ago, (the Miramax debacle kept this on the shelf for nearly 2 years), I’m sure her name recognition helped get the money to make the film so she’s forgiven in my book.

While I could continue to heap praise on Redford and Freeman, who are nearly always amazing, I’d like to make sure a special mention goes to both Damian Lewis and newcomer Becca Gardner. Lewis plays the abusive boyfriend of Lopez’s character and his range continues to impress me. After seeing this film, go check out the best mini-series ever, “Band of Brothers”. Then watch the behind the scenes material. Now you see what I mean. His ability to convincingly play good and bad characters is rare in today’s Hollywood machine, where the charming and the menacing might as well wear black and white hats to match.

Becca Gardner, playing the daughter of Lopez, is excellent, and holds her own against Redford and Freeman. Her defiant spirit is evident from her first scene and if her character didn’t work, the whole movie would have unraveled.

Hallstrom utilized the acting talent at hand to craft a film that takes a close look at what it takes to forgive and redeem past sins and events. Redford and Lopez both portray flawed characters, in need of a change to get their lives on track. Freeman and Gardner help them on their way.

Hallstrom was also very effective at making the scenes involving Bart the Bear (II) intense and had me jumping here and there.

A fine example of what Hollywood should be trying to do, “An Unfinished Life” garners a 4 out of 5 from me. It fell short of perfect due to its meandering pace that had me wondering how much time I’d spent in the theatre but other than that, it’s about as good as it gets. Maybe take the swig of chuckpucker in-between a double feature of this and “Grizzly Man”. I think you’ll find that afternoon far from ‘unbearable’.

Sorry, I had to go there. And you should go to the theatres and see this film … before another 70’s TV show gets remade or Chris Tucker gets the script to Rush Hour 3: Searching for Jackie Chan’s Integrity.