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Directed by Nora Fingscheidt
Written by Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz and Courtenay Miles
Starring Sandra Bullock, Jon Bernthal and Vincent D’Onofrio
Classification R; 102 minutes
Opens in select theatres Nov. 26; streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 10
The effects of one wound ripple outward. That’s the point producer/star Sandra Bullock and director Nora Fingscheidt successfully make with their new Netflix drama The Unforgivable. (It’s based on the British TV series Unforgiven, created by Sally Wainwright.)
We meet Ruth Slater (Bullock) as she exits prison, where she served 20 years for killing a sheriff. No one is eager to welcome her back: not her unsmiling parole officer (Rob Morgan); not the sheriff’s sons, who want vengeance; not the attorney she convinces to help her nor his doubting spouse (Vincent D’Onofrio and Viola Davis); and especially not the couple (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond) who adopted Ruth’s sister Katie, who was five years old when Ruth went to prison, and remembers her only in dim flickers. But Ruth is determined not to give up on Katie, no matter the cost.
Drawn, taut and nearly silent, Bullock convincingly creates a shell of wariness and self-protection, and then gradually lets it crack. Fingscheidt (System Crasher) does a good job doling out the information we need to understand Ruth, and shows us the grimness of the institutions that are supposed to ease formerly incarcerated people back into society, but instead reinforce how separate they feel. (The film shot for six weeks in Vancouver in early 2020, halted for six months in the pandemic, then resumed in September at the Canadian Motion Picture Park Studios in Burnaby, Netflix’s new Metro Vancouver production hub.)
A plot twist near the end takes a big risk: It might kick you out of the film’s Pacific Northwest setting and straight into Hollywoodland. But if you’ve bought into Ruth’s journey, it might make everything click into place.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.