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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Unforgivable, review: Sandra Bullock’s new redemption drama feels 10 years out of date

  • Cert TBC, 112 min. Dir: Nora Fingscheid

The Unforgivable has been a decade, plus a six-month Covid delay, in the making. It’s based on a 2009 ITV drama called Unforgiven, a 3-part vehicle for Suranne Jones, which was swiftly pitched to Angelina Jolie, with Christopher McQuarrie meant to direct. It’s been picked up and dropped repeatedly since, until Sandra Bullock decided in 2019 to produce and star. Halfway through production last spring, shooting was postponed, then polished off last autumn.

Knowing all these stop-start circumstances is the only way to make sense of a strange, broken film which never ties its story satisfactorily together: actors in the supporting cast come and go according to curious screenwriting whims that leave us scratching our heads. It’s never outright bad – not unforgivably so – but comes off muted, diffuse and generally half-baked.

Much as she did in Ocean’s 8, Bullock, in the role of convicted cop-killer Ruth Slater, gets out of prison at the start, and needs to figure out a life plan while she’s on parole. Glitzy heists at the Met Gala are not on the agenda: here she’s a pariah, looking stony and brutalised by her own backstory, which involves a younger sister, Katie (Aisling Franciosi), whom she essentially raised after their father killed himself. 

Whatever happened when a sheriff came knocking on their door is half-remembered, and bittily disclosed to us in the kind of wafty, shallow-focus flashbacks much beloved of TV directors on series like Sharp Objects. Somehow, resorting to these in a two-hour feature makes the film seem suspiciously shortcut-fond from the outset.

Still, there’s a certain intrigue gained at first by us simply puzzling out what’s going on. Katie, who has amnesia about her childhood, has been fostered by a nice bourgeois couple (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond) who are keen to protect her from any contact from Ruth; meanwhile, two sons of the murdered sheriff (Will Pullen and Tom Guiry) argue about gunning for revenge. 

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