The Unforgivable (2021) Movie Review
Drama / Thriller
Netflix’s “The Unforgivable” is a movie that tells three stories in one. Each story is worse than the last, and the film leaves viewers questioning why it was made in the first place. The movie stars Sandra Bullock, who is also the producer, alongside great veterans like Vincent D’Onofrio, W. Earl Brown, and Viola Davis, who have no excuse for their performances. Davis, in particular, has questionable scenes with throwaway lines that are out of place and jarring.
The movie opens with a tale of repentance, where Bullock's character, Ruth Slater, is released from prison after serving 20 years for killing a cop. She is trying to find Katie, the sister she left behind while incarcerated. She makes her way to the house of Liz and John Ingram, played by Davis and D’Onofrio, respectively. Jim, a lawyer, invites Ruth, a complete stranger who looks like she’s been riding the rails in a Depression-era movie, into his house. Liz is understandably suspicious, but Jim takes Ruth's side and drives her back to the bus station as they chat. Meanwhile, Liz does some research of her own and confronts Jim when he returns home. She reminds him that Ruth killed someone in cold blood, and if it had been any of their Black sons who had been in the system, they would be dead.
The movie keeps giving the impression that viewers should have some empathy for Slater, a woman who served her time, but it trips over references to her privilege, making viewers apathetic. Slater even gets out of prison early for good behavior, which sets the stage for the revenge subplot. However, for most of the movie, viewers don't know why Slater feels entitled to seek out the sister who may have been too young to remember her at all. Katie's guardians make a valid point during the lawyer drama scenes - what good would it serve? It just seems like she's being a troublemaker. Katie already has enough stress, having blacked out and gotten into a major car accident in the opening scene.
Director Nora Fingscheidt and writers Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles keep Slater’s reasons for reuniting with Katie from viewers in the hopes of generating mystery-based suspense. To do this, they use one of the biggest pet peeves in movies: repeated flashback snippets that only show bits and pieces of the sheriff’s murder. They’re done in that clichéd soft-focus, then edited with the quick flashes that always telegraph that what viewers think happened most definitely did not. Here, it’s the same shots over and over, as if the flashback budget was $1.39. By the sixth time viewers see a screaming little girl burying her face in a disembodied shoulder, they're ready to scream too.
The movie's murder mystery is an infuriating cop-out, and the revenge subplot is disturbing. The sons of the murdered sheriff are not happy that Slater's out of jail. One brother wants to let it be, the other is following her and dreaming of kidnapping, violence, and murder, especially when he finds out about Katie. Of course, it’s the passive one who will turn out to be vicious, but what’s the point of suddenly turning this into a thriller? If it’s meant to inspire sympathy for Slater, this plotline, and a scene where she’s brutally beaten by the daughter of another cop, does so by making law enforcement out to be a hotbed of violent, immoral cops and the barbaric children they’ve raised.
In conclusion, "The Unforgivable" is a film with an identity crisis, attempting to blend together multiple genres and storylines into a cohesive narrative. However, this attempt ultimately falls flat, leaving the viewer feeling confused and unfulfilled. While Sandra Bullock gives a solid performance as Ruth Slater, the film struggles to fully develop her character and justify her actions, resulting in a lack of empathy from the audience.
Overall, "The Unforgivable" is a forgettable film that fails to live up to its potential. While it may have had good intentions in exploring themes of redemption and forgiveness, it ultimately falls short in execution. Viewers looking for a compelling drama or thriller would be better off looking elsewhere.
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