Most movie mavens this awards season have likely heard of The Power of the Dog. However, they probably haven’t heard much buzz about a B-movie crime thriller out there, Unforgivable, that is several clichés away from being grindhouse fare. But a better title might be The Power of the Sandra Bullock, since the Oscar-winning actress, who is one of the producers, pretty much carries this project on her admirably sturdy shoulders. The film, based on a three-part British miniseries and directed by Nora Fingscheidt, has its ups and downs – including a plot line that has a few too many puzzle pieces as it unfolds in a cold and rainy Seattle locale. But if you hang in there, the performance of its female star attraction will reward you.
The former rom-com queen is barely allowed to flash even a wan smile or comb her hair as she inhabits the world of ex-convict Ruth Slater, who is being released from prison after serving 20 years in jail for shooting a cop. We meet her as her kindly parole officer (Rob Morgan) gets her settled into a half-way house filled with addicts and thieves. She takes on a job cutting fresh fish on an assembly line and stumbles into some carpentry work at a homeless shelter. Both of those choices seem rather Bible-worthy to me and are a sign that Ruth may be more than meets the eye.
Two decades ago, she was taking care of her toddler sister Katie after both of her parents died, her mother during child birth and her father by suicide. Scenes from the past flash by, showing Ruth threatening to shoot a sheriff who came to evict them from their farm. When Ruth was incarcerated, Katie (Aisling Franciosi), who grew up to be a talented pianist, was adopted by a loving couple (Richard Thomas, Linda Edmond), who also have a younger daughter (Emma Nelson). We learn that Ruth has sent numerous letters to her sister while in jail at her current address over the years but never got the courtesy of a reply. But the older Katie is haunted by the separation, and has recurring mental flashbacks of the day of the shooting while not quite knowing who was with her at that time.
Once Ruth is released, she goes to check out her former homestead where she meets the couple — Liz and John (Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio) with two sons — who bought the house. Turns out that John is a lawyer and is willing to help Ruth reunite with Katie. There also is a potential love interest in the form of Blake (the always welcome Jon Bernthal), a fellow employee at her seafood job. Alas, the two adult sons of the sheriff (Tom Guiry, Will Pullen) get wind of Ruth’s release and are out for retaliatory vengeance.
Basically, there is too much plot squished into 114 minutes of time and too much talent under-utilized. But with a dour yet compelling Bullock doing most of the emotional lifting, especially at the end, the film’s downsides are more than forgivable.