Following her release from prison after twenty years, Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullocks) attempts to make contact with her sister (Aisling Franciosi), who was only a child when she went away. Enlisting the help of a lawyer (Vincent D'Onofrio) who now owns the house she used to live, Ruth tries navigate post-prison life, but finds herself haunted by the crime of her past...
Prison movies generally tend to be rough going, as the very concept of prison and carceral punishment is one that tends to be dehumanising. You only need to look at classics like 'Birdman of Alcatraz', 'Papillon', 'Cool Hand Luke', or recent efforts like 'Michael Inside' to understand this. Yet, movies set after prison tend to vary in scope and genre. Most post-prison movies tend to circulate around the concept of parolees out for revenge for those that wronged them or trying to make amends for their crimes. 'The Unforgivable', based on the ITV three-part series 'Unforgiven', straddles somewhere between these two and ends up falling down the middle.
Sandra Bullock takes over the role of Ruth Slater from Suranne Jones as the tough-as-nails parolee who has to readjust to life on the outside after a two-decade stint and, in doing so, realises that life on the outside is much the same as it is on the inside. Of the many roles Bullock has played in her varied career, it's easy to see why she was drawn to this as it's markedly different from anything she's done before. The character Bullock is supposed to be portraying is one who has calcified to such a degree that she can't even see how she can possibly hurt her sister with her presence. As much as Bullock gives it her all in this, her performance ends up ultimately unconvincing because the script itself lets her down at every turn.
For one, the original series played out over three episodes which helped to spread out the grimness of it all. Here, it's condensed and mainline into just under two hours, making it hard to bear with. Not only that, the twisty nature of the story is such that when it's shrunk down to a movie of this size, it starts to feel contrived and strains to be authentic. For a movie that's supposed to be stripped back and harrowingly authentic, it ultimately feels like it's being insincere, which is the worst a movie of this kind can be. 'The Unforgivable' suffers it all, even though the cast is stacked with incredible talent. Where else would you see Viola Davis, Sandra Bullock, Jon Bernthal, Vincent D'Onofrio, our own Aisling Franciosi, all in the one movie together? More than that, how could you have this kind of cast together and see it fail like this does?
Director Nora Fingscheidt, in her English-language debut and her second fictional feature, is able to give 'The Unforgivable' layers of darkness and stark reality, combined with the oppressive weather that surrounds each character and the general weight of it all. The problem, sadly, is that it becomes too much to bear and ultimately becomes oppressive and bereft of any real hope, so that by the time the credits roll around, you're just glad it's finally over regardless of how the story wraps up.
As a further display of Sandra Bullock's acting talents, 'The Unforgivable' is successful, but as an entertaining or compelling story, it is a failure. Ultimately, the greatest crime that 'The Unforgivable' is guilty of is being forgettable.