Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock), was in prison for over 20 years. “The Unforgivable” opens. That’s a long time to idle while the world moves forward. But 10 years — the length of time this film was in development — is pretty extensive, too. Indeed, the fact that the movie’s history is almost as convoluted as Ruth’s makes it all the more impressive that director Nora Fingscheidt (“System Crasher”() and her team have created a touching, but flawed, redemption drama.
“Unforgiven”British miniseries, which was praised for its three-part format and had enough time to explore the complex histories of these characters. You’ll be able to see that this remake was planned at one time with Angelina Jolie as the lead actress and Christopher McQuarrie as the co-star.“The Usual Suspects,” “Jack Reacher”) as writer and director, it’s easy to get lost imagining another route entirely.
But this is a story about moving forward, about learning to reassess judgments and misjudgments, and defining one’s self from within when the world has already dismissed any attempts at redefinition. Ruth is struggling to find her place in the world, and Bullock is a powerful actor.
Rob Morgan, her compassionate parole officer “Mudbound”) drops her at a decrepit halfway house in Seattle, it’s clear that Ruth is unmoored. Her roommates are drug addicts and thieves, and she is unable to get a job as a fish skinner on an assembly line. Only one relative is still alive for her, Katie Franciosi (Aisling Franciosi). “The Fall”). Ruth longs to make contact, but soon realizes that her main goal is also her biggest challenge.
Twenty years ago, after Ruth and Katie’s parents died, the girls were evicted from their family farmhouse. From what we’re able to see in flashbacks, a desperate Ruth shot the sheriff who came to take them away. She’s served her time but will forever be reviled as a cop killer. Katie, who can only recall the past in brief bursts now, is now living with the Malcolms. They are a loving couple (Richard Thomas and Linda Edmond) as well as an adoring little sibling (Emma Nelson). “Where’d You Go Bernadette”).
Ruth believes she’s paid the price for her crime, but she’s having a hard time finding anyone who agrees. The Malcolms fear that she will disrupt their settled life. The sheriff’s bitter sons (Tom Guiry and Will Pullen) want to destroy what’s left of Ruth’s life in vengeance for the way she ruined theirs. There’s also Blake (Jon Bernthal), who stands on the assembly line with her and seems like a promising romantic prospect — until she confesses her story. And John Ingram (Vincent D’Onofrio), a lawyer who’s willing to help her, until his wife Liz (Viola Davis) points out that their own black sons would never get a second chance if they’d killed an officer like Ruth did.
This is a lot of responsibility, especially for a movie. There are times when Courtenay miles, Courtenay Craig and Hillary Seitz get too much responsibility. Fingscheidt has assembled such a talented cast and taken so much care to define each world. We feel that every thread deserves its own time. Instead, most of the characters get short shrift, and powerful actors who might normally serve as anchors — Morgan, Davis, and Bernthal in particular — are reduced to memorable cameos.
But this is Bullock’s show, for better and worse (she’s also a producer). As for the latter, there’s the confusing and distracting practical matter of math: Bullock is 57, Franciosi is 28; Ruth seems to be around 40, and Katie around 20. Because their history is unfolded slowly in flashbacks (played by Bullock as Ruth’s younger self, and Neli Kastrinos as Katie’s), we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how Ruth and Katie could be connected.
Still, a tightly-drawn Bullock is fully in tune with Ruth’s pain, making her extreme introversion an evident side effect of trauma rather than personality. Fingscheidt uses all elements to create a sensory connection between Ruth and the audience. Ruth is so inwardly focused. We are part of the journey with the score by Hans Zimmer and David Fleming.
But Fingscheidt’s underlying focus is on the cultural strata that divide the characters. Guillermo Navarro’s intimate cinematography, which shifts with the socioeconomic settings, matches each notably divergent environment as designed by Kim Jennings and Natalie Van Hest. Jennings and Van Hest have eyes for minute detail, and deftly pull us from Ruth’s viscerally repellent halfway house to the Ingrams’ expensively enviable farmhouse to the Malcolms’ softer suburban haven.
All of this fine work does bring us back to the fact that there’s too much here, and too little time in which to explore it all. It happens that the original “Unforgiven”Britbox streaming is available while “The Unforgivable,”The film, which is currently playing in theaters and will be available on Netflix December 10. It’s not exactly uplifting, but a pairing of the series and the film might compel anyone looking for something more intense than traditional holiday fare.
“The Unforgivable”In theaters in the US Nov. 24, and on Netflix Dec. 10.