The Unforgivable

Many long-time prisoners have recently been freed because they were victims of police and prosecutorial rush to judgment. Just how they adjust to life after prison is the focus of The Unforgivable, directed by Nora Fingscheid. Based on a 2009 TV miniseries in Britain that has been redesigned for the American audience, the former prisoner is endlessly downbeat Ruth Slater (played by Sandra Bullock). In her forties, she has just been released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence for killing a sheriff. The circumstances of the initial arrest, as later revealed, are that Ruth and her 5-year-old sister Katie (Neli Kastrinos) were in a house to be foreclosed. Their widower father committed had just committed suicide, evidently mortified over the loss of the family house. When a sheriff (W. Earl Brown) enters the door to evict the residents, a gunshot kills him. While treating his sister to a fancy pancake, Ruth is soon arrested at a restaurant and confesses. Evidently her conviction is based on the confession with no effort at forensic validation. There is no coverage of her time in prison, but she has many flashbacks and clearly has been hardened by the experience—and about to be hardened by many who consider her to be less than human because of her crime.

When she steps out of the prison, she expects her sister to be waiting for her; after all, she’s been writing letters to her quite regularly. By some coincidence, however, Katie (now played by Aisling Franciosi) blacks out past a red light and crashes into a car, resulting in serious damage, including her pianoplaying left wrist. Instead, a parole officer (Rob Morgan) drives her to her new residence, a rooming house in Seattle’s Chinatown, where she occupies the top bed in a room with three others, and monitors her later.

One thread of her new life is to seek work. Having served a prison sentence, she is rejected for a carpenter job but accepted to work in a fish preparation plant. Eager for work as a carpenter, she finally lands work in a building under construction for the homeless. Blake (John Bernthal), a male worker, tries to befriend her but freezes up when she tells him of her offense while they eat together at a restaurant. A Chinese worker beats her up, evidently after he spreads the word; her father was the first Asian cop in town. He tries later to apologize.

Meanwhile, another thread consists of death threats and stalking from two sons of the slain sheriff who are now members of the Seattle police force.

The most important thread is her search for her sister. She goes to the house where the crime was committed, stands outside, and soon the husband John Ingram (Vincent D’Onofrio) out to talk to her. She admits having lived there and having constructed a feature of the house, and then drives her to the bus stop. A lawyer, he senses that she needs legal assistance, and gives her his card. That ultimately leads him to bring Katie’s guardians, Michael and Rachel Malcolm (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond), to meet Katie-seeking Ruth, and they oppose a reunion.

At this point, the noir film develops into a dramatic series of events, bringing together all the threads, culminating in what film reviewers are not allowed to disclose, though hints are laced throughout.  MH

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