By Wyatt Rucker
Released on Netflix earlier this month, “The Unforgivable” reminds us that Sandra Bullock is a world-class actress; however, the filmmakers inexplicably decide to include so many scenes without her that it wrecks the film’s pacing and wastes its potential.
“The Unforgivable” follows the story of ex-convict Ruth Slater (Bullock) after her release from prison. Throughout the movie, the audience gets subtle clues as to the true nature of her crime. The explanation we’re initially given is that she killed a cop; in the words of her parole officer Vince, “you are cop killer wherever you go, so get that into your head now.”
To say that the movie wastes Vince’s character would be an understatement. Actor Rob Morgan steals the few scenes that he’s in, making you value the sage perspective Vince gives Ruth on her situation after her release. Vince’s likeability leaves the audience frustrated with Ruth when she continually disregards him and his advice. Beyond that, it’s truly “unforgivable” how little the film uses him.
Rob Morgan portrays Vince, Ruth’s parole officer, in a criminally underused performance.
More than anything, Ruth wants to get into contact with her little sister Katie, the only family she has left. Ruth returns to the house where the killing occurred and finds a new family living there. They invite her into the house, and the film intersperses Ruth’s tour in the present day with flashbacks of the day she supposedly committed the crime. The cinematography during these scenes is stunning, effectively conveying the weight of the trauma Ruth carries.
As she leaves the house, Ruth is stopped by John, the father of the family living in the home, who offers to drive her to the nearest bus stop. It is here where the movie really starts to drag. While in the car, John somehow deduces that Ruth isn’t telling the whole truth about her crime. Ruth tells John just enough to reveal what actually happened and, feeling sorry for her, John offers to help her. For the next roughly 20 minutes, the film focuses on Ruth’s underdeveloped and ultimately inconsequential romance with her co-worker Blake, played by Jon Bernthal.
Bernthal (yes, the Punisher himself) gives a remarkable performance as Blake, yet his character, like Vince, is woefully underused. We first meet Blake when he offers to give Ruth a ride home after work. He is a nice guy who seems to genuinely care about Ruth. The two start hanging out more, and the film fools the audience into thinking the pair will stick together through thick and thin. However, everything goes downhill when Ruth tells Blake about her dark past and then leaves after he (understandably) is unsettled by this.
Jon Bernthal’s talents are wasted on an inconsequential romantic subplot that goes nowhere.
While Ruth is getting to know Blake and adjusting to life after prison, the children of the murdered cop are conspiring against Ruth in a clusimly executed subplot. Keith, the cop’s older son, is taking Ruth’s release from prison the hardest. He tells his brother Steve they need to make Ruth pay for what she did. Steve tells him that he’s crazy and should forget about it, but after tracking down Ruth himself and confronting her about the situation, he becomes even more revenge-crazed than Keith. This whole idea of Steve becoming the revenge-driven one rather than Keith is convoluted and doesn’t fit well within the film.
As it approaches its end, the movie falls short of resolving the story. After Ruth abruptly walks away from her relationship with Blake, the film rushes to the climax and resolution within a span of 15 minutes, with Blake not making another appearance. Clearly Blake had the potential to play an important role in the story, but his scenes are ultimately used as nothing more than filler before the movie decides to sprint to the finish.
Ruth eventually tracks down Katie’s foster parents, Michael and Rachel Malcom, who are raising Katie along with their biological daughter Emily. Portrayed by Emma Nelson, Emily is the film’s most compelling character; her genuine care for Ruth and her well-being is truly beautiful. Once again, however, her talents are woefully underutilized, with her presence in the film being limited to its climax and resolution.As the film comes to its dramatic conclusion, it leaves the viewer with a sense of disappointment and more questions than answers. Although Sandra Bullock shines in her role as Ruth, the lack of screen time given to Rob Morgan, Jon Bernthal and Emma Nelson receive is absolutely criminal. The film struggles with pacing and holding the interest of the viewer on important plot points. If you want a movie that disappoints and frustrates you with its wasted potential, “The Unforgivable” is for you.
“The Unforgivable” is now streaming on Netflix.
Wyatt Rucker is a freshman M.Div. student and an A&E writer for Cedars. In his free time, he likes to hang out with friends and watch shows with his roommate.