Synopsis: Released from prison into a society that won’t forgive her past, a woman seeks redemption by searching for the sister she left behind.
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Tom Guiry, Rob Morgan, W. Earl Brown
Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Once you find out that Sandra Bullock’s newest film for Netflix is based on Unforgiven, a 2009 three-episode limited series originally shown on British airwaves, it starts to make sense why this feature film feels like it’s missing something that would make it feel complete. It’s not that Bullock’s presence back on screen, her first since 2018’s massive hit Bird Box, isn’t welcome because it most definitely is, but it’s that The Unforgivable doesn’t seem up to the standard we have for the Oscar winner. The meatiness that must have been present in the lengthier version explored in the miniseries would have made this feel less of your standard presentation of redemption and given all the actors, not just Bullock, additional layers to uncover.
Released from prison for good behavior after serving part of her time after being convicted for the shooting death of a small-town cop twenty years earlier, Ruth (Bullock, Gravity) is assigned to a parole officer (Rob Morgan, Don’t Look Up) who isn’t about to go easy on her. Not that she’s a barrel of laughs, either. The weight of the years in prison have clearly taken their toll on the parolee and her solid stance, rough edges, and clipped response to questions speak to a woman that didn’t just make it through prison, she survived. Unsurprisingly, cop killers have a difficult time behind bars and while it’s not discussed you wonder how much abuse Ruth suffered from those in power while she was locked away. Through flashbacks, we see the circumstances by which the crime occurred and there’s little doubt of her involvement in the officer’s slaying, having acted in the spur of the moment to avoid eviction for her and a much younger sister from her family farm.
Unable on her own to contact her now young adult sister (Aisling Franciosi) who lives with adoptive parents (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond, Gemini Man) that have shielded from her true identity for decades, Ruth engages a lawyer (Vincent D’Onofrio, The Magnificent Seven) that she happens across when she visits her old home…he lives there now with his wife (Viola Davis, Widows) and sons. Shielding them from her truth but not totally hiding it either, she finds a sympathetic ally in the legal nature of the husband but not the moral core of the wife. While she is befriended by a co-worker (Jon Bernthal, The Accountant) at the fish factory job her parole office finds for her, she also secures her own employment putting her carpentry skill to use building a shelter for the homeless. The past hasn’t forgotten about her or the people in her life though, and the sons of the slain cop have kept an eye on the woman they feel has gotten off too easy.
The multiple storylines and character arcs scream miniseries, and you can imagine how each episode would have dealt with juggling all of these in a much tidier way. As it is, screenwriters Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles never successfully bring anything to the forefront and so nothing has the desired impact necessary for us to grab onto. Not that they haven’t given us one or two characters we wish we had more time with. Why cast the dynamic Davis in a role that is largely dormant for the run time and further, why would she take this low impact part? Davis and Bullock work so well together in their short amount of screen time you wish the movie were more about them. I’d have taken less of the revenge storyline featuring Tom Guiry (Wonder Wheel) and Will Pullen (Goat) as two sons so enraged at the injustice of someone leaving jail early that they’re willing to commit a crime that would send them to jail in return. These types of plot developments make little sense even to a casual observer, how does it not make sense to two people? I also liked the relationship formed between Bullock and Bernthal, a highly underrated actor that gets a nice chance to shine with a character that’s not big on words but grand on making efforts to connect.
The time has long since passed when Bullock has had to prove herself a strong dramatic actress, so the range shown her is no big surprise. The performance is perhaps oversold just a teeny bit but there’s little care for artifice in her acting and she works nicely with director Nora Fingscheidt to not turn every intense passage into an Oscar-clip ready moment. Overly strong production values and an ever-present Hans Zimmer & David Fleming (Dune) score add to the sophistication of The Unforgivable, so even if it’s lacking in a feeling that it’s the whole package because it’s been trimmed for the overseas remake, there is still a sense of an above average narrative that’s worth a look.