In practice, mincing up the miniseries’ plot without losing any of its main ingredients — and even adding several new ones to the mix, including a whopper of a third act twist that turns Ruth into a martyr and all but completely erodes the movie’s emotional core — results in an undercooked stew that isn’t given the time it needs to find any real flavor of its own.
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A strong cast and tightly focused direction make The Unforgivable an engrossing enough redemption drama, though this Americanized feature adaptation of British TV writer Sally Wainwright’s 2009 miniseries, Unforgiven, doesn’t always benefit from its condensed plotting.
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. Because Ruth keeps so much inside, Fingscheidt uses every element to create a sensory connection between this difficult character and the audience.
Drawn, taut and nearly silent, Bullock convincingly creates a shell of wariness and self-protection, and then gradually lets it crack.
The whole thing comes across as a movie star’s anti-vanity project, just an opportunity for Bullock to demonstrate her ostensible range. Okay, she can be hard and stoic and affectless. Noted.
This is three movies in one, each of which is progressively worse.
The plot’s twists and turns, which were manageable in a three-part TV drama, look contrived and unlikely in a feature film and Bullock has little to do but look self-consciously solemn and martyred for the entirety of it.
Sandra Bullock has starred in only seven films in the last decade, and along with Gravity in 2013, her two most intriguing roles by far have been courtesy of the streaming giant Netflix: first with the smash hit horror film Bird Box (2018) and now with The Unforgivable, which has prestige credentials, a brilliant, A-list cast and a few moments of near-greatness, but is ultimately a disappointing and frustrating viewing experience due mostly to script and editing problems.
The Unforgivable transcends its own self-importance and becomes an experience that is often rattling, challenging and haunting.
A frustrating drama that struggles to be either a thoughtful character study or a slow-burn thriller.