Lost in the Adaptation: Our Review Of ‘The Unforgivable’

Posted in Movies, Netflix, Theatrical, What's Streaming? by - December 08, 2021
Lost in the Adaptation: Our Review Of ‘The Unforgivable’

Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock) travels far to visit a house in a rural area outside of Washington. She pretends to be one of the people who did work in the house. She asks the new owner, John Ingram (Vincent D’Onofrio) to have a look at the work she pretends to have done. Entering the house, Ruth has flashbacks of what actually happened in the house and her real relationship with it. The flashback shows her jumping on a couch with her little sister Katie (Neli Katsrinos). More flashbacks eventually show what drove those sisters apart. The town’s sheriff (W. Earl Brown) tries to evict them, and as the sheriff enters the house, a gunshot goes off. Pleading guilty and serving time for killing a police officer, Ruth gets a lighter sentence for good behaviour.

That early release does not sit well with the sheriff’s children, who are, during Nora Fingscheidt’s The Unforgivable‘s present day, grown men who are following Ruth around and are trying to think of ways to avenge their father. A person who feels a more sane version of discomfort towards her release is John’s wife (Viola Davis). She reminds him that Ruth being alive is a sign of a privilege. The system would not have granted those privileges to her and her Black sons had they been in Ruth’s position. In adapting Sally Wainwright’s UK miniseries The Unforgiven starring Suranne Jones, this version handles race minimally but it fairness, it does so in interesting ways. The tenuous status of the four people of colour in this adaptation gives their opinion of Ruth more nuance.

Bullock obviously leads the cast of four different families. Other critics have negatively noted her vacuous-ness here, which is something I don’t see. I’m starting to feel like I’m running into film criticism where reviewers can’t read emotion. But anyway, the problem is less that and more of Bullock’s efforts falling short of emulating her proletarian character. It also doesn’t help that the movie’s scope feels too overwhelmingly big. It gives that room for its running time to depict Katie and the family who adopted her (including Linda Emond), which, great.

THE UNFORGIVABLE: NELI KASTRINOS as YOUNG KATIE, SANDRA BULLOCK (PRODUCER) as RUTH SLATER. CR: KIMBERLEY FRENCH/NETFLIX © 2021

All of the characters here feel necessary but the gray cloud of dread around them feels too much. Another thing it tries to do is make us empathize with a cop killer who is also a good sister. In turn, it villainizes that cop’s children who prefer revenge over responsibility and therapy. The thing is is that the movie already preaches to the choir but not in a good way. And that’s because it feigns complexity over something that’s so simple. This is another case where conflict exists only so that someone can make a movie out of it.

Perhaps the main critique about a movie failing to adapt miniseries material applies here since maybe more installments can make the concepts here breathe. The shorter format might have also made the reveal here fall flat. Ruth reveals what actually happened that day to John’s wife, finally giving Davis something to do in a movie that doesn’t give her the spotlight she deserves. This is the kind of role that Davis might get in 2007 which is unacceptable in 2021.

The Unforgivable is already in theatres and will come to Netflix on December 10.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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