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New to Netflix - THE UNFORGIVABLE

the unforgivable review
A released convict attempts to reconnect with her younger sister.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nora Fingscheidt

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Rob Morgan, Viola Davis

the unforgivable poster

German director Nora Fingscheidt burst onto the scene last year with System Crasher, the story of a young tearaway girl's struggles to adapt to civilised society. For her English language debut, The Unforgivable, she remains in similar territory, with a tale of a convict trying to make it on the outside. But where Fingscheidt's debut employed subtlety in a story with a decidedly unsubtle protagonist, here we have the opposite - a taciturn heroine in a movie that hammers home its points.

Famously proud of her German roots, it's no surprise to see Sandra Bullock recruit Fingscheidt for this movie adaptation of British TV series The Unforgiven. Bullock takes the lead role of Ruth Slater, who was sent to prison for shooting dead a cop involved in the eviction of herself and her little sister from their family farm. After serving 20 years, Ruth is released for good behaviour. A skilled carpenter, she takes a rewarding job working for low pay constructing a homeless shelter, and a not so rewarding job gutting fish at a processing plant.

the unforgivable review

Ruth's main goal is to connect with Katie (Aisling Franciosi), the sister she hasn't seen since that fateful day on the farm. Katie has been raised by foster parents and apart from suffering flashbacks to the shooting (her only memory of Ruth), appears to have a good life. Meanwhile, the now adult sons of Ruth's victim are plotting revenge for their father's murder.


Compressing a multi-episode TV drama into a feature film, it doesn't take long for The Unforgivable to begin taking storytelling shortcuts. The first of several improbabilities comes when Ruth visits her old home and, wouldn't you know it, the new tenant just happens to be a family lawyer (Vincent D'Onofrio) who sympathises with Ruth's predicament and agrees to help her establish contact with Katie.

the unforgivable review

Similar contrivances follow when it comes to the thriller aspect of The Unforgivable, with the vengeful sons improbably getting access to details of Ruth's whereabouts. I'm no expert on the American legal system, but would a cop-killer really be released back into the same community where they committed their crime?


In parts, The Unforgivable works as a middling drama about the struggles of convicts to make a new life on the outside. Bullock is quite good, even if her makeup free performance does feel like an awards season cliché. The best scenes revolve around her relationship with a fellow fish gutter played by Jon Bernthal, refreshingly cast against type as a genuinely nice guy.

the unforgivable review

It's the thriller element that scuppers The Unforgivable. Ruth's victim's sons have an understandable grievance, but the movie's desperate need for the audience to side with Ruth sees them reduced to one-note villains with as much depth as the home invaders from Home Alone.

The Unforgivable has a card up its sleeve, but refusing to reveal its full hand until its dying moments turns out to be a misjudged play. Not knowing the full story from the beginning leaves us struggling to sympathise with a character who doesn't seem to even want our sympathy, even if the movie she's in most certainly wants us on her side. As this is made for Netflix, we're left wondering why it crammed so many subplots into a two hour movie rather than a limited series with time to explore them in more detail. The answer suggests that the streaming service (and Bullock, who promptly ditched TV as soon as she became a star in the early '90s) still believes the feature film is the format of true prestige productions.

The Unforgivable is on Netflix now.



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