Einar Gilkyson. There's a name. Though not one that comes to mind when thinking about Robert Redford. Einar is a name for Max Von Sydow or Stellan Skarsgard. There are tougher hurdles for an actor, but this one gives you some idea of what Redford is up against in ''An Unfinished Life": How do you play an Einar? Redford's solution appears to be: a little like Clint Eastwood. Oh, if only.
Einar runs a ranch in Wyoming. He wears cowboy hats and speaks his one-liners real slow with his jaw clenched. He's a loner and recovering alcoholic whose exasperated wife ran off with another man. He's the kind of guy who roughs up the punk cowboys that harass the waitress at the local diner then gives them a little speech. Einar's gruff exterior gets a break when he nurses his ailing buddy Mitch (Morgan Freeman, who else?) or sits and rambles aloud at the grave site of his son, who's been gone more than a decade.
At 68, Redford doesn't hold the screen with Eastwood's authority or charm, even though this character bears more than a vague resemblance to Eastwood's recent roles. Freeman's participation (he's just fine, doing his trademark wise-wiseacre sidekick bit), only underscores the spirit missing in Redford. The old soul we expect Freeman to bring out of such a misanthrope never really emerges.
But the movie, directed by Lasse Hallström, lacks spirit, too. The locations are lovely to behold. Parts of Canada give fine performances as Wyoming, so the film is scenic, like a postcard and just as perfunctory. Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg's screenplay does try for familial intrigue, but it's all been better somewhere else.
Einar gets an unwelcome visit from his estranged daughter-in-law Jean (Jennifer Lopez) and the little girl she had with his son. He hasn't seen Jean in 11 years, and he's never met Griff (Becca Gardner), who is named after her late daddy. Jean is running from an abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis), and Einar, somewhat irrationally, blames her for his boy's death. (She was at the wheel the night he died in a crash.)
Reluctantly, Einar puts the two up. Eventually, he bonds with the grandkid. And inevitably, the violent boyfriend appears. But Jean has smartly struck up a sexual relationship with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas), and Einar owns a gun. There's also a grizzly on the loose, the very one that mauled Mitch. The film intends the bear to be some kind of metaphor for repression and later for freedom. But a moviegoer sees it howling and grunting and wonders how it's the only ferocious creature in the film.
''An Unfinished Life" has the ingredients for a revenge western, yet none of the teeth. We're asked to find entertaining a handful of guilty people who want to be redeemed. But neither Hallström nor much of the cast puts much grit or conviction behind the request.
Like most of Hallström's Hollywood movies (''The Cider House Rules," ''Chocolat"), this one is excruciatingly tasteful. Lopez and Lucas's tryst, for instance, is set in a car and has been shot at a depressing remove. The characters can seem private to each other, but they shouldn't to us. No film containing domestic abuse, a deadly grizzly, fistfights, curse words, and this many hurt feelings should feel so polite.
The movie was scheduled to come out late last year, near the release of Eastwood's ''Million Dollar Baby," but was held. The relationships and tone in ''An Unfinished Life" are too much like that film, yet not nearly enough. ''Quarter-million Dollar Baby" is more like it.
Why would Redford be interested in such a slow, laden picture? Probably the same reason anyone would be: The chance to rub Morgan Freeman's back. All the movie has going for it is Griff's suspicion that Einar and Mitch might be lovers. Good try, but she'll have to wait until Ang Lee's ''Brokeback Mountain" for her dream of gay cowboys to come true. Still, the girl's suggestion is more convincing and more perceptive than anything else in the film.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.