FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE THE UNFORGIVABLE, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
After I watched the trailer for The Unforgivable, I thought would be watching a fast-paced, emotionally-fueled crime thriller. However, as the first hour of the film flew by, I realize I am watching something completely different – and sometimes that can be really refreshing. For much of its runtime, The Unforgivable plays out as a slow-burn, bleak tale of redemption grounded in reality. Unfortunately, the writers then go off the rails for a finale that feels mighty incredulous, especially for a film that had been reveling in its authenticity.
WHAT IS THE UNFORGIVABLE ALL ABOUT?
Sandra Bullock plays Ruth Slater, who we meet up with as she is getting out of prison after a twenty-year stint. As Ruth tries to move on with her life, living in a halfway home and working a dead-end job; her real motivation becomes finding her little sister, Katie, who she hasn’t spoken to since that fateful day. Unfortunately, there are people in town who want Ruth gone, or even dead.
WHERE DOES THE FILM SUCCEED?
I love a good redemption story. So, as The Unforgivable takes a much more restrained and realistic approach I became instantly absorbed by the film. I like how we meet up with our lead character Ruth, just as she is getting out of jail, but, we don’t know what she’s done yet. So the audience has no preconceived notions of this character; unlike the townspeople, we are about to meet. We do continue to get small glimpses of the crime that occurred until we are able to piece together exactly what happened.
My mind was constantly racing as The Unforgivable was playing out before me. Slowly I realize the gravity of what Ruth has done, leaving the audience with questions that they must answer for themselves. Can some crimes or misdeeds be forgiven? Should they be? Can a person be changed for the better? Or will there always be evil lurking within them? I began asking myself all of these heavy, powerful questions of morality.
And this is where the film succeeds, mostly in its first half, as we see this broken woman trying to piece her life back together. The fact that we can find empathy for someone who has been labeled a monster, is a testament to Bullock’s work.
HOW IS SANDRA BULLOCK AND THE REST OF THE CAST?
Speaking of Sandra, she is very good here. This is the definition of an unglamorous performance. Ruth’s hair is disheveled, she’s dirty, bruised up, and wears the same coat day in and day out. You can almost smell the rotting fish and body odor radiating off of her. This is also a difficult role to play because Ruth is so somber and subdued, barely speaking. When she does it’s almost in whispers; until she has hit her boiling point. Luckily, Bullock has always had such a wonderful screen presence. And as we slowly get to know Ruth, we do end up falling for her and her plight.
Unfortunately, the rest of the wonderful supporting cast is completely misused. As the film ran its course, I keep thinking that it would have been much better as a limited series. The film continues to throw new people at the audience. Most of which, admittedly, all have a part to play, but none of which are fleshed out in a satisfying way. A mini-series would give more time to the rest of the vast cast of characters.
Vincent D’Onofrio gets the most screen time as Ruth’s pro bono lawyer, but he takes a backseat in the second half. As Ruth’s co-worker, the always charismatic Jon Bernthal is sidelined out of nowhere. On top of this, he never really gets any more time to validate his presence within the story. And lastly, Oscar-Winner Viola Davis gets a thankless, pointless role as D’Onofrio’s wife (except for a short sparring match with Bullock, where she is able to show off some of her chops).
WHERE DOES THE FILM FALTER?
All of this to say that The Unforgivable began to frustrate me as it entered its second half. The writers seemed to know exactly what type of film they were concocting at the beginning. But, then it’s as if they got stuck, and didn’t know how to compact this story and all of the characters they’ve introduced into a feature film. So, they just said, “Screw it”. The Unforgivable crumbles under the weight of its storytelling and the logic being thrown out the window. Not to mention the twist, which I must admit I did not see coming, almost contradicts what I perceived to be the whole point of the film…redemption. It’s a real shame because the film started off in such a strong place.
The Unforgivable is In Select Theaters Now and will be streaming on Netflix on December 10th, 2021.