On its surface, The Unforgivable should be sure-fire Oscar bait. Below the line, Hans Zimmer is one of the composers. Joe Walker is an editor. Above the line, the cast is led by Sandra Bullock. The material screams Academy Award consideration. Of course, when a film like this is so clearly aiming at prestige melodrama success, it’s either going to do that or be a spectacular failure. Unfortunately, The Unforgivable is mostly the latter, unable to be a movie worthy of anyone’s time, both in terms of the cast as well as audience members. Dropping on Netflix early next month, it’s doomed to be almost immediately forgotten about. Sadly, that’s the fate that the flick deserves, too.
The Unforgivable wastes Bullock in the service of a story where almost no one behaves like an actual human being. For something that wants to traffic in deep human emotions, that’s an absolutely massive misstep. Individual moments do achieve their emotionally manipulative goals, but the final product is missing anything that makes it worthy of its own existence. At best, it’s wildly mediocre.
Ruth Slater (Bullock) has just got out of prison and life on the outside does not appear to hold much promise for her. Having served a long sentence for a soon to be revealed violent crime, Ruth (Bullock) quickly finds that society refuses to forgive her past. First it’s a job offer that vanishes. Then, it’s a beating. At all turns, there’s severe judgment in her hometown, only reinforcing the true life sentence she’s facing. Watched over by her parole officer (Rob Morgan), she eventually gets a menial labor job, where a fellow worker (Jon Bernthal) takes a shine to her. However, she only really has one thing on her mind.
Ruth is desperate to reconnect with her estranged younger sister (Aisling Franciosi), who was taken away after that fateful crime was committed. Living with foster parents, she has no memory of the past, which they want to stay that way. As she makes movements towards that, with the help of a lawyer (Vincent D’Onofrio), even as his wife (Viola Davis) hates the action, someone else from her past is planning to make sure she gets a taste of her own medicine.
Sandra Bullock mostly underplays a role that honestly doesn’t ask as much from her as you might think. It’s largely one-note, and while she’s intense enough for the most part, you never get the sense that she’s either been hardened by jail or damaged by the tragedy of the entire situation. Bullock is fine, but she’s capable of more. She still fares better than anyone else, hard as that is to believe. Viola Davis is wasted to an almost criminal degree, while the likes of Jon Bernthal and Vincent D’Onofrio are similarly disregarded, material-wise. The rest of the supporting cast, besides the aforementioned names, include W. Earl Brown, Tom Guiry, and more.
Director Nora Fingscheidt, along with writers Peter Craig, Courtenay Miles, and Hillary Seitz definitely thought they were making effective melodrama. Instead, it’s almost funny how much it misses the mark. They saw The Unforgivable as heart-wrenching, as well as containing a big twist. However, everything is telegraphed, the emotions feel completely forced, and you’ll see their one major turn coming a mile away. A parody of similar material would have been embarrassed to do some of the things we see here.
The Unforgivable should have worked. The ingredients were there, that’s for sure. While the broth is not quite rancid, it certainly doesn’t taste good. For whatever reason, this is a rather subpar outing for all involved. Luckily, it will soon disappear on to Netflix, never to be thought of again.