Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's Finished When He Decides It Is

I probably saw An Unfinished Life for the first time last spring, or maybe over the winter. It's one of those films my dad will autotune his TV for if there's nothing else on at that time he likes better. I will pretty much always stop to watch Hot Fuzz or The Rocketeer, he's lining up to see movies about Robert Redford being an angry drunk who can't cope with losing his son.

And also movies where Burt Lancaster kills a bunch of fucking Nazis (The Train), but that's not what we're here to talk about.

Jennifer Lopez is a single mom who flees her abusive boyfriend with her daughter in tow to Redford's ranch. He's her father-in-law, but as he blames her for his son's death, he is not happy to see her. Or to find out, like 12 years after the fact, that he has a granddaughter, named after his son*. He lives on his ranch with his old friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is partially crippled up from being mauled by a bear the year before, and it's at least partially Einar's fault. the bear has reappeared and gotten itself captured and put in a nearby shitty zoo, which ends up being a pain in Einar's butt.

So it's one of those movies where people try to come to grips with emotional trauma they've previously tried ignoring, or locking away. There are several scenes of people yelling at each other, or people backsliding and acting stupidly, or lashing out. But gradually everyone sort of hashes things out, at least to the level of coming to some sort of peace with each other (I think they all sort of unite over the abusive boyfriend appearing like a moron to get his ass beat). At least a couple of scenes with no dialogue and sad piano music in the background.

There's some decent one-liners in there. Redford has a good deadpan delivery, and Morgan Freeman can play well off most anyone. Lopez carries a pretty good sense of desperation and frustration, and I especially like the scene at night when she and Einar finally have it out. Where she's so pissed at him, but she's trying to keep her voice down because her daughter is supposed to be sleeping downstairs. The anger, but with her still trying hard to control it. She ends that argument by pointing out he wants to be dead, and should just lie down so they can bury. But maybe he's afraid no one would come. Einar didn't have any sort of a comeback for that.

Becca Gardner does well as Griff, the kid stuck in the middle of all this. In the early stages of the film, she's very quiet. Keeps her eyes on the ground, avoiding eye contact. Doesn't approach people readily, always staying out of arm's reach. You can tell she's used to being in situations where adults will scream or grab or hit her, just because, and she's trained herself to be ready for it at all times. Even when she brings Mitch some lunch, or helps Einar work on his truck. She'll step forward to hand something to them, then immediately move back a safe distance. She can't be sure what might happen, and if something goes wrong, she might get blamed. Which feels like it contradicts Einar's assessment of her as being at the age where she still thinks things will work out, but she does open up with a little encouragement, so maybe he's right.

I gotta agree with my dad, they flub the very end. There's a nice bit with Einar and Mitch sitting next to each other, disagreeing about the weather, and the Mitch asks to be buried there on the property, where Einar's son is. And Einar plays it off as obvious, you're family and all that. But then Einar asks if Mitch thinks the dead care what they do, and Mitch goes on this long soliloquy about it, and it's just bleh. Completely unnecessary.

* He mentions, when they're introduced, that Griff is an odd name for a boy, but his name in Einar, which is an odd name for anyone, so glass houses.

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