Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Rob Morgan, Viola Davis
Run Time: 114 mins
The Unforgivable is an American feature film adaptation of a 2009 British television series called Unforgiven. The film is directed by Nora Fingscheidt in her English-language debut, with her first film Systemcrasher in her native Germany. Fingscheidt relocates the action to Seattle, which is portrayed in an unrelentingly grim light, far removed from its coffee, alternative rock and literature culture. The film’s spent a fairly long time in development limbo, with Angelina Jolie attached at one point to star and Scott Frank to direct.
Sandra Bullock plays Ruth Slater, an unkempt and shaky individual who is released from prison in the opening moments of the film after serving twenty years for murdering a sheriff who tried to evict her, as well as her younger sister, Katie, from a former property. Slater moves into a hostel and immediately takes up two jobs to make ends meet so she can rebuild her life, as well as locate her estranged sister.
Katie (Aisling Franciosi) lives with her foster parents (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond) and sister Emily (Emma Nelson), who have withheld her origins from her, although she has flashes of trauma. Ruth finds herself drawn to her old house to begin her search, where she meets current inhabitant lawyer John Ingram (Vincent D’Onofrio), his wife Liz (Viola Davis) and two teenage boys. After a chain of events, Ruth asks John to help her locate her sister.
The Unforgivable is an entertaining enough drama with a committed Sandra Bullock performance who excels in carrying Slater’s world-weariness and emotional baggage. She looks chronically tired and scatty, walking a capricious line between survival and homelessness. There are some other solid performances too, Aisling Franciosi continuing to prove a force to be reckoned with even if her character is underdeveloped after her electrifying turn in Jennifer Kent’s haunting Australian revenge drama The Nightingale. Vincent D’Onofrio and Viola Davis’ performances are typically excellent but their characters also underdeveloped.
Unfortunately, Fingscheidt doesn’t master the dour tone the story requires to match its harsh setting. The storytelling is contrived and predictable and races through it in its sub two hour run time. The script warrants a longer run time to really breathe and a more tactful tone, as the film borders on laughable in its third act and there are multiple instances where characters change their minds over weighty decisions in seemingly seconds. Scott Frank would have been a terrific pick if he had stuck in the director’s chair – A Walk Among The Tombstones oozes with substance in its tone, as do his television efforts, Godless and The Queen’s Gambit.
The film seems a strange pick for Hans Zimmer to choose to score, who collaborates with David Fleming. The score is disappointing as it’s not memorable and isn’t well utilised in how it meshes with the events on-screen. Luckily, Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography fares better, offering the film a bleak and muted aesthetic.
The Unforgivable is fine in the moment but it’s shame that Fingscheidt’s direction is undercooked and the film struggles to justify its existence in a heavily crowded genre. The film is held together mainly by its performances and whilst the story is reasonably gripping, other than one minor twist in the final act, it’s very predictable.