Elinar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) finds it difficult to forgive his daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez) who drove the car that killed his son. The young man's grave stone under a tree at the family ranch is engraved with "An Unfinished Life, Son 71 to 92."
Jean (Lopez) finds herself in an abusive situation in Iowa as the film opens. She escapes with her daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner) who is unknown to Elinar who hasn't seen daughter-in-law Jean since the funeral. Her only safe location is in Wyoming at the ranch Elinar shares with Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman).
In contrast to Elinar's unforgiving anger Mitch has forgiven the grizzly bear who attacked him, damaged his back and legs leaving a scar on his face which reminds us of The Phantom of the Opera. Elinar is very attentive and caring toward his friend of thirty years, changing his dressings, providing lotion to damaged parts of his body and injecting morphine into Mitch's butt.
The quiet script which is character driven and has no FX, follows changes in the main character's lives as the granddaughter observes the tension between her mother and grandfather. It's a new experience for her and her grandfather when he agrees to allow Jean to stay until she can save enough to get out.
While looking for work on Railway Avenue she finds a job in a coffee shop owned by Camryn Manheim, she is the typical woman friend in films about abuse that understands and takes no prisoners when it comes to men who are abusive. The coffee shop also offers us a glimpse of Elinar's grit, which will come in handy at the film's climax.
The bear comes back into play when Mitch cannot accept the animal being caged, he has forgiven the bear for doing what a bear does, he body is broken but the damage to Elinar's spirit is engraved deep inside.
A closer relationship between grandfather and granddaughter creates new problems as Mitch attempts to help with healing. But nothing is sudden or spectacular in this script which moves in what feels like real time. Nothing jumps out at us and the characters appear more real than we usually see, the script takes its time and we are allowed space to care. Redford and Freeman look like worn cowboys, Lopez appears just enough and Becca Gardner is a delightful observing young woman who names the cats in the barn.
If releasing the bear is important to Mitch it is only the parallel to freeing of anger on the part of Elinar and that's what keeps us watching each scene with anticipation.
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