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Based on the virtually same-named 2009 British miniseries, director Nora Fingscheidt’s somber drama The Unforgivable stars Sandra Bullock as Ruth Slater, a woman released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence for murder. As she tries to find the younger sister she had to leave behind so long ago, Ruth discovers that life on the outside is full of pain and pitfalls, as well as occasional moments of empathy and hope.

Flashbacks reveal the tragedy that led to Ruth’s incarceration: Facing eviction from the home she and her 5-year-old sister, Katie, have shared since their parents’ deaths, Ruth finds herself in a stand-off with law enforcement officers. A well-meaning local sheriff winds up dead, Ruth goes to prison, and Katie enters the foster system. She ends up being adopted by a well-intentioned couple (Richard Thomas, Linda Emond) who love her but are in no hurry to share the details of her early life, which were virtually erased by trauma, with her.

In the present, Ruth struggles to get by under both the strict conditions of her parole and her notoriety as a cop killer, working two jobs and doing everything she can to locate Katie. She unexpectedly finds a sympathetic ear in the current resident of her former home, lawyer John (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose wife, Liz (Viola Davis), is decidedly less open to hearing what Ruth has to say. Meanwhile, the dead sheriff’s adult sons discover that Ruth is out on parole and seethe with the desire to make her suffer.

As the story’s different threads entwine, The Unforgivable takes some twists that might feel far-fetched, but the sincerity of the performances keeps you engaged with the characters and invested in their fate. Bullock is the furthest thing from glamorous as Ruth; the relatable vulnerability she’s shown in lighter roles is still there, but here it feels even more delicate, a fragile thing that keeps Ruth alive and hoping despite the many obstacles in her path. Fingscheidt elicits strong performances from the cast as a whole, building a world populated by flawed people who make mistakes — but often in the name of love.Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sherin Nicole You feel the weight of the past in the detached stoicism and intermittent rage of Sandra Bullock’s performance in The Unforgivable. The Netflix film by director Nora Fingscheidt is a study in steady gray trauma but a faceoff between Bullock and Viola Davis provides an unforgettable spark.

Susan Wloszczyna: 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. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Nora Fingscheidt’s drama is elevated by Sandra Bullock’s portrayal of a parolee trying to do more than survive on the outside, but rather, finding a reason to survive, by reconnecting with her younger sister. Bullock is in full 28 Days mode, largely unsympathetic and wholly vulnerable. Viola Davis buzzes with energy for her every moment on screen. And, the two of them together are truly compelling to watch.

Jennifer Merin The Unforgivable is German director Nora Fingscheidt’s compelling drama about Ruth (Sandra Bullock), who is released from prison after 20 years of internment. She’d confessed to killing an officer of the law. We know from the flashbacks presented early in the film that the shooting/murder occurred when Ruth was trying to avoid eviction from her family home, the home where she’d been living with and taking care of her five year old sister, a child who was the sole focus of Ruth’s life. It is very clear that the conditions of Ruth’s parole are extremely stringent, but she’s determined to abide by them and to create a new life for herself. She gets two jobs, one of which uses her skills as a carpenter. She reports to her parole officer as is required. However, while strictly abiding by the rules, she is haunted by not knowing what has become of her sister. She cannot resist trying to find out — although her efforts out her in jeopardy of violating her parole. The almost two hour-long movie is an adaption of the British 2009 crime miniseries Unforgiven. The plot is richly embellished by Ruth’s encounters with co-workers, the sons of the murdered cop and a sympathetic lawyer (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his less sympathetic wife (Viola Davis). If plot twists occasionally seem contrived, Sandra Bullock’s thoroughly authentic and gripping performance sustains the story’s forward thrust through the film’s thoroughly surprising and affecting denouement.

Liz Whittemore The Unforgivable is more complex than at first glance. Sandra Bullock plays a woman freshly out of prison, seeking redemption and the younger sister she left behind. Through flashbacks, both beautiful and traumatic, we learn of the incident that cost her 20 years of her life. It is only in the end that the full impact of Bullock’s performance is understood. She brings a stoicism that is tough to crack, but as the layers slowly fall away, her raw emotion breaks your heart. Her scenes with Viola Davis will make you stand at attention. Sparks fly as these two brilliant women play off one another. The Unforgivable is undeniably engrossing.

Cate Marquis Sandra Bullock stars as a woman released on parole after serving 20 years for the murder of a cop, who longs to reconnect with her younger sister, who was five at the time of the crime. German director Nora Fingscheidt’s English-language crime drama, inspired by a British series, costars Viola Davis and Vincent D’Onifrio. The tense drama weaves together three threads: the woman on parole who is forbidden to contact the younger sister she raised after their mother died, the family who adopted her sister at age five, and the sons of the murdered cop, as well as the lawyer helping the parolee as a fourth thread. Filled with twists that shift our perceptions, Sandra Bullock delivers an affecting performance as the haunted, driven woman at the core of this well-crafted crime drama thriller.


Title: The Unforgivable

Directors: Nora Fingscheidt

Release Date: December 10, 2021 (Netflix)

Running Time: 112 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriters: Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, Courtenay Miles

Distribution Company: Netflix


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

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Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).