The Unforgivable (R13, 112mins) Directed by Nora Fingscheidt ****
As my beloved wife so succinctly put it, Sandra Bullock’s latest character is “no Miss Congeniality”.
When we first meet Ruth Slater, she’s emerging from prison, having served 20 years for murder.
As parole officer Vince (Rob Morgan) talks her through the 10 “commandments” to prevent her coming back, her irritation and world-weariness is clear, especially when he reminds her that there’s also a “no contact order” she must adhere to.
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Begrudgingly accepting her less-than-salubrious shared Seattle accommodation, Ruth deflects Vince’s offer to put in a good word for her at the seafood packing plant, assuring him that she already has a carpentry job. However, when she shows up for work, the foreman denies all knowledge of any such employment deal.
“Was it a phone call, or a visitor, between when I had the job and when I didn’t?” she spits.
“Am I convict anywhere I go?” she later opines to Vince, as she reluctantly accepts his help.
“No, you’re a cop killer everywhere you go and the sooner you accept that – the better,” he snaps back.
Based on Sally Wainwright’s three-part, Yorkshire-set, Suranne Jones-starring, 2009 award-winning, Bafta-nominated British crime drama Unforgiven, little-known German director Nora Fingscheidt’s English-language feature debut is a slow-burning character study with a terrific payoff.
Like Steve McQueen’s 2018 Widows adaptation, this benefits from a strong sense of space and place and a terrific cast that also includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Viola Davis, The Nightingale’s Aisling Franciosi and Jon Bernthal.
However, the real revelation here is Bullock. Once America’s “sweetheart”, thanks to string of action movies and rom-coms in the mid-1990s, she has done a magnificent job of reinventing herself as a serious, dramatic actor in recent times, whether facing fantastical perils in the likes of Gravity and Bird Box, or more down-to-earth crises, as is the case here.
As she struggles to move on with her life, Ruth is also seeking closure and peace with the event that changed her life, while others see her return as an opportunity to seek vengeance.
Told in a spare, sparse, intimate style, with clues expertly drip-fed to the audience, we’re never quite sure of Ruth’s motives or state of mind, something which draws you in and ensures you’re invested in the ultimate outcome.
The Unforgivable is a story where everything initially seems black-and-white, but divides gradually start to blur, as we learn and spend more time with the characters.
Clever framing and intercutting between the past and present assists this narrative greatly, but it’s Bullock who makes you care – even if she’s not exactly playing Miss Congeniality.
Now screening in select cinemas, The Unforgivable will debut on Netflix on December 10.