What stops Sandra Bullock’s film The Unforgivable from reaching its potential is that Ruth Slater’s (Bullock) heart-wrenching story isn’t quite anchored. Bullock’s performance as a matronly figure, who tries her best to keep her sister safe despite harm to herself, tries to make this a moving experience, but we never get to hear as much as we should about the trauma this character suffers from.
The Netflix film begins with Ruth’s release from jail, with the screenplay flitting between her actions and that of her young sister, Katherine Malcolm (Aisling Franciosi), a student who holds a secret from her worried mother. This back-and-forth narrative creates a connection that gets stronger when Katherine meets with an accident.
The parole release means that Ruth, who hopes to reconnect with her little sister Katherine, must follow a list of stifling rules in the real world. And we slowly learn more about Ruth’s past that unfolds in fragments, a metaphor for Ruth’s own fragmented efforts at rebuilding her life, including getting herself a lawyer. And yet, for every step she takes forward in leaving her identity as an ex-convict behind, she gets dragged down by a society that refuses to forgive her. She gets further driven to frustration, by a personal betrayal.
The film attempts to be a study on how society is harsh on certain people trying their best to rebuild their lives. However, it doesn’t sink deep enough into Ruth’s responses, apart from showing us occasional violent outbursts which serve only to alienate us from her pain. Furthermore, certain characters fail to get worthy arcs—for instance, the character played by Viola Davis, which fails to do justice to her acting ability.
The film doesn’t stray from the ending of the British show it is based on, and writers Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles replicate the cathartic ending, in which a performance of “Everything in Its Place” crescendoes along with a not-so-surprising twist. For lack of a gutsy ending, this film doesn’t quite pack that decisive punch.
Director: Nora Fingscheidt