The Unforgivable

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Sandra Bullock in Unforgivable.
Sandra Bullock in Unforgivable.
Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix


The Unforgivable




2/5 Stars


A woman who is released from prison after serving a sentence for violent crime attempts to re-enter society. She must try and put her life back together in a world that doesn’t want to let her forget her past. 


There is an interesting point in Sandra Bullock's new film The Unforgivable about how those who were incarcerated are treated once they reenter society, but the film's convoluted plot and confusing storylines make it difficult to get across.

Based on a British mini-series called Unforgiven, the film follows Ruth Slater (Bullock), a woman who is released from prison after twenty years for good behaviour. Ruth was in jail for killing the sheriff, who tried to evict her and her sister from their home. Branded a cop killer and a murderer, Ruth is seen as a pariah as she tries to go back to a somewhat normal life. She is also trying to find her sister Katherine (Aisling Franciosi), who was five at the time of the incident and has since been adopted by a seemingly well-off family.

At the same time, Ruth visits her former home where the crime occurred and meets the new family living there – John (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Liz (Viola Davis) Ingram. John, a corporate lawyer, agrees to help Ruth find Katherine, but Ruth does not tell him the whole truth behind her past. At the same time, Ruth is working two jobs – at a fish packing factory and helping to build a homeless shelter. At the fish packing job, she meets Blake (Jon Bernthal), who is friendly and charming and the two become friends.

In addition to this, there is a plotline involving the sheriff's sons that she shot. Steve and Keith Whelan are angry that she was released because of good behaviour after shooting their father, and they start to plan to avenge their father's death.

This is all taking place at the same time. And perhaps it makes more sense to remember that this was based on a mini-series, meaning that the original piece of content had about three hours to measure all these factors and make it work. It does not work here. The pacing throughout the film seems off; many of the scenes have characters expressing emotion which seems to come out of left field. The supporting characters are widely underutilised and underdeveloped. If the story is about the two sisters, very little time is actually spent on Katherine and telling us about her character.

Further, the direction does not make it easy to understand the film. To make the film seem more like a murder mystery than a character study, they utilise flashbacks to the original incident but only show the audience part by part until the end. This means it is easy to misinterpret, which seems like the director and writers' intention. But this also means that every time there is a flashback, it is cut so uncomfortably into the film that it is jarring and frustrating because you know that you are not seeing the whole story.

However, if it was the director, Nora Fingscheidt's intention for this just to be a film about Ruth, is somewhat easier to follow. Sandra Bullock offers a compelling performance and once again shows her abilities to play against part and do dramatic roles. If we just focus on Ruth's journey and not overthink about the side plots surrounding her, it makes the film more watchable, but I wish Fignscheidt had streamlined the film to neaten up the straggly bits.

As I mentioned above, the supporting characters are incredibly underutilised. Vincent D'Onofrio and Viola Davis especially, I feel, as they had chunks of scenes edited out, and I constantly feel as if I'm missing something in their scenes. Davis felt like a glorified cameo; however, the scenes that she is in are so memorable that you wonder why she wasn't used more. However, Rob Morgan, who plays Ruth's parole officer Vince and Jon Bernthal, are scene-stealers, and even though they had little to do, there was still a certain gravitas to their performances.

The Unforgivable felt as if it was trying to say something meaningful but couldn't find the words, but perhaps with a streamlined plot and focusing on the struggle of ex-convicts, it could have been different.


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