Tuesday 9 August 2022

Movie Review: The Unforgivable (2021)

A drama about the search for redemption, The Unforgivable is a human-centred and character-rich story about past mistakes casting a dark shadow on the present.

After serving 20 years for murdering a cop, Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock) is released from prison. Parole officer Vincent Cross (Rob Morgan) sets her up at a dingy halfway house in Seattle's Chinatown and finds her a job at a fisheries plant, where she meets the amiable Blake (Jon Bernthal). Ruth is determined to find her younger sister Katherine (Aisling Franciosi), who was five years old when the murder happened. Katherine was subsequently adopted and raised by Rachel and Michael Malcolm, who also have a younger daughter Emily (Emma Nelson).

Ruth visits the farmhouse where the cop shooting happened and meets current occupants John and Liz Ingram (Vincent D'Onofrio and Viola Davis). John is a lawyer and offers to help Ruth track down Katherine. Meanwhile, brothers Keith and Steve Whalen are the grown sons of the slain police officer. Keith is furious Ruth is now free and plots a revenge, but Steve has a young family to think about. With emotions running high, the lives of Ruth, the Malcolms, the Ingrams, and the Whalen brothers are inexorably drawn together.

An adaptation of a British miniseries, The Unforgivable is a superbly constructed and unpredictable drama. The screenplay (by Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles) embraces a diverse set of well-drawn characters propelled by conflicting motivations, and launches them on different trajectories but all headed towards inevitable collisions. Breezy surprises abound: on more than one occasion, initially less prominent characters emerge as key plot participants, upturning expectations.

Narrative strength is derived from a range of emotions all tied to the same incident. Ruth's quest for reunification with her sister only gains resonance as more is revealed about their past. The sons of the slain police officer have every right to feel aggrieved the murderer is free in their community. The Malcolms raised Katherine as their daughter, but also suspect her lingering mental struggles are related to her childhood. Katherine's younger sister Emily starts at the margins but will not stay there, while the Ingrams learn they are living in a house with a past, and are now drawn into a tragedy's next chapter.

Hans Zimmer contributes a soulfully haunting soundtrack to enhance both the emotional twists and the host aesthetics. Mostly filmed in the Vancouver area standing-in for Seattle, the dreary and damp northwest landscape captures Ruth's dour mood. Sandra Bullock is suitably deglamorized and stays faithful to a character hardened by 20 years in prison, but also does not need to stretch much beyond a traditional pain-behind-the-eyes stance.

In an assured feature film debut, director Nora Fingscheidt introduces the characters with both depth and brevity. She demonstrates confidence with brief flashbacks to the pivotal shooting incident and its immediate aftermath while rotating multiple perspectives in the present. Some characters are therefore paused for relatively long periods, but step forward to make an impact on cue.

The complex and ultimately emotionally exhausting drama wraps up in under two hours. The Unforgivable is impressively expansive in scope, marvellously efficient in execution.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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