On paper, the credentials for The Unforgivable must have seemed promising. It had been adapted from Sally Wainwright’s generally well-received British TV series, Unforgiven, from 2009, it featured a scenario rich in moral complexity, and it had the eternally popular Sandra Bullock in an enticingly atypical role. In fact, The Unforgivable‘s marketing push has very much centred around Bullock in this showingly plain, blue collar persona – perhaps a nod to the likes of Charlize Theron in Monster and Jennifer Aniston in Cake, where the conceit of their deglamourisation became the films’ major critical focal point.

Ultimately though, all The Unforgivable‘s promising credentials become, conversely, the noose by which it hangs itself. The continual close-ups on Bullock’s familiar, chiselled face in glum implacability are there to remind us that this star is now playing ‘serious’ rather than the kooky klutz she usually essays. But, presumably, if The Unforgivable was genuinely interested in the authenticity of its scenario, a Hollywood star would not have been cast in this role in the first place.

Then there’s the story itself. Betraying its original incarnation, the (trashy) novelistic content would have been far better served by the TV format. There are so many characters – each with complex backstories and psychologies integral to the narrative – but the film simply doesn’t have enough time to do any of these aspects justice. Instead, it defaults to the worst form of rote storytelling: countless scenes of characters ventriloquising the film’s morals and themes, and some staggeringly clichéd and bogus use of flashbacks.

The Unforgivable does have the base ingredients for a rich exploration of historical trauma and social justice themes. Unfortunately though, its soapy treatment does it a fatal disservice. Even Sandra Bullock’s unstarry turn as a morally ambiguous ex-con feels insincere and is dramatically anti-climatic.



CAST: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Edmond, Aisling Franciosi

DIRECTOR: Nora Fingscheidt

WRITERS: Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, Courtenay Miles

SYNOPSIS: An ex-con is released after 20 years in prison for the killing of a policeman. She embarks upon her re-integration into society while trying to establish correspondence with her younger sister and running the gauntlet of the deceased policeman’s embittered sons.