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Miramax Pictures presents
Mitch: You want to know what I dreamed last night? I dreamed you weren't such a miserable son of a bitch.
DVD ReviewThe Hallmark Hall of Fame made for TV movies are packed with all the ready-made sentiment you'd expect from a greeting card company. Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life is not from Hallmark, but from Miramax, but it's such a calculated tear-jerker, it may as well come with its own envelope.
With cruise control set to "grizzled," Robert Redford stars as Einar, an aging, rugged Wyoming rancher who is still struggling with the death of his son a decade prior. He can't move on, and spends time each day at his son Griffin's grave (upon which are written the words "an unfinished life"). He's forced to face his feelings when Jean (Jennifer Lopez), his son's widow, shows up with 11-year-old Griff (Becca Gardner), the granddaughter he never knew. Jean is running away from an abusive relationship with her boyfriend (Damian Lewis), who shows his love with his fists.
It's pretty clear where this is going. Both Jean and Einar have issues to sort out regarding Griffin's death, and it's young Griff who will be the medium. Colorful characters fill out the cast. Mitch (Morgan Freeman) shares Einar's ranch; previously mauled by a bear, he's heavily scarred, but Einar is more than willing to help him shave, administer his pain medication, and endure his homespun wisdom. Griff, who perhaps has seen Brokeback Mountain, assumes the two are a couple ("It's OK. Everyone needs love."). Josh Lucas plays the laid-back town sheriff, who seems to have plenty of time to give Jean rides around town, and Camryn Manheim puts a disturbing swagger in her step as the gruff local waitress hiding her own pain. And then there's Bart the Bear, the one who mauled Mitch and now is supposed to serve as some sort of metaphor for holding on to your pain, or something. Regardless, there are a few poorly handled moments of bear-related suspense that did nothing for me.
An Unfinished Life is well-acted but empty. There's no real feeling in any of it, and the emotional arcs are far too familiar and less than genuine. Hallström, a good director who has made some great, character-driven films, piles on the sentiment with long, loving takes, artsy fade-outs and a lush score, and the mountainous landscape is beautiful, but the movie seems to be reaching for Oscars more than tugging at heartstrings, and you can tell Miramax was hoping for another award contender in the vein of the equally pretty Chocolat. It obviously didn't come together, and the movie sat on the shelf for two years and was granted a cursory release last fall.
Despite the cheeseball story, the movie is sort of enjoyable if only because Freeman and Redford are old pros who play off of each other very well. Lopez is fine, too, and casts off her larger-than-life image to play a victim of abuse who's down on her luck. Even Bart the Bear is pretty convincing, though he didn't get an Oscar nod either.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Like many Disney/Miramax releases, An Unfinished Life looks good as long as you don't examine it too close. Overall color clarity and detail appear fine, and though some definition is lost in darker scenes, black level and shadow detail are good as well. But it's obvious the image has been digitally filtered, and there are pronounced edge halos throughout. They'll be more obvious the larger your display; they didn't bother me, but they were noticeable.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: This dialogue-driven drama doesn't have much cause for an active sound mix, and it certainly hasn't received one. Most everything is understandably confined to the front channels, which handle the material quite well. The surrounds seem oddly muted, fairly to contribute much atmosphere even during a thunderstorm sequence.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Glory Road, Annapolis, Deep Blue
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Lasse Hallström, producer Leslie Holleran, and editor Andrew Mondshein
Packaging: Keep Case
Layers Switch: 01h:12m:41s
A making-of featurette runs around nine minutes and covers pretty familiar territory, while the self-explanatory Training Bart the Bear (10m:04s) is more interesting. There's also a still gallery and trailers for other Disney releases.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsHokey but heartfelt, An Unfinished Life plays like an expertly-acted, well-polished Hallmark Hall of Fame productionglossy, with ready-made sentiment as genuine as the message in a greeting card.
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