'The Unforgivable' review: Sandra Bullock has done a bad, bad thing

Netflix drama follows Bullock's character, a convicted cop killer, as she tries to put her life back together.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "The Unforgivable," Sandra Bullock wears a mean scowl that lets you know she's a bad person who has done a bad thing. 

That bad thing happened years ago, and she has spent the last 20 years in prison for murdering a cop. The details of that crime are slowly parsed out over the course of director Nora Fingscheidt's scattered drama, which suffers from several storytelling inconsistencies and a desire to have it too many ways with its characters. 

Sandra Bullock in "The Unforgivable."

Bullock's Ruth Slater is being let out of prison as the film opens, and she is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and put them back together. The fact that she's a cop killer and was the subject of a high profile case does not help matters, as prospective employers shy away from offering her work. Elsewhere, the children of the murdered sheriff are looking to enact their revenge on Ruth. 

She's drawn to the house where she grew up, along with her estranged baby sister, who was present at the time when the murder happened. Ruth has spent years trying to get in contact with her sister (now in her mid 20s and played by "The Nightingale's" Aisling Franciosi), who was placed into the system and adopted by a family who doesn't want her to have anything to do with her big sis. Her letters are unreturned. 

Her old house is now owned by a friendly lawyer, John Ingram (Vincent D'Onofrio), who once he learns Ruth's story agrees to help her try and get a hold of her sister. That's despite the objections of his wife, Liz (Viola Davis), who wants Ruth as far away from her husband and her family as possible. 

After picking up a job at a fish market — the story takes place in Seattle, with Vancouver standing in for the city — Ruth befriends a co-worker (Jon Bernthal), but is so jumpy she doesn't know how to accept his kindness. 

And "The Unforgivable" doesn't know how to treat Bullock's character. She's a stone cold killer and is treated as such, and she's been hardened by the system and by the circumstances of her life. But the story — based on a 2009 British miniseries — wants to offer her redemption, and when it finally does, it pulls the rug out from underneath the momentum of the story and everything we've been told up to that point.  

Bullock, usually such a smart, strong, joyful presence on screen, is in major dour mode here, playing a down and out character who has had the life kicked out of her. The movie has, too. It asks a lot of viewers and doesn't offer a solid return on investment, and gets twisted up in its own pretzel logic. "The Unforgivable" is forgettable. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Unforgivable'

GRADE: C

Rated R: for language and violence

Running time: 114 minutes

On Netflix