*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
There is something delightfully satisfying about seeing America's sweetheart channel her rebellious side.
No, this is not a reference to Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan. It's a nod to the rom-com queen Sandra Bullock, who everyone knows as the lovable, quirky protagonist in films like While You Were Sleeping, All About Steve and Miss Congeniality. The actress has also flexed her acting muscles across multiple genres, from sports dramas to sci-fi thrillers (how amazing was Gravity?!). But now, the Oscar winner is making headlines with her new Netflix thriller, The Unforgivable, and it's...well, a mixed bag.
On the plus side, it boasts a solid cast (from Viola Davis to Jon Bernthal) and it touches on plenty of key issues that relate to the justice system, but unfortunately, it sells itself short with a shocking twist that actually takes away from the entire film.
The movie follows Ruth Slater (Bullock), a woman who gets released from prison after serving 20 years for murdering a cop. She tries to find her place in a society that constantly rejects her, but more importantly, she's desperate to reunite with her baby sister, whom she hasn't heard from.
From the get-go, it's clear that Ruth's newfound "freedom" comes with a whole new set of barriers, shedding light on very real issues that affect formerly incarcerated people, whether it's blatant discrimination or limited job opportunities. (When Ruth gets out, she's denied work because of her record.) But though these key themes do add depth to the film, it's Ruth's complicated character and inner turmoil that really shines through.
Here is Bullock, embodying a hardened, no-nonsense carpenter who actually killed a cop—and she totally nails the performance. In fact, anyone who hasn't seen her rom-coms might assume that she was born to play these kinds of roles: the brash, uncompromising, ruthless felon who's fiercely protective of those she loves.
Bullock's portrayal of Ruth is layered and so authentic. She balances the frustration of losing basic necessities with a deep longing to see her sister again, and she masters the art of maintaining a stoic expression as she deals with the weight of everyone's judgment, although her eyes still speak volumes. Her previous crime also gives her a dark and unsettling edge, almost teasing that Ruth might be capable of more than what the film lets on—and that makes her character all the more fascinating.
But then comes the big reveal, which confirms that the events didn't quite play out like one would expect. Without spoiling it, this twist feels like a flimsy attempt at maintaining Bullock's nice girl image. Yes, it'll tug at the heartstrings and yes, it gets points for shock factor, but the following scenes lose their spark and it's harder to stay invested until the end. As you watch, you might find yourself saying: "Oh wow! Didn't see that one coming...But wait, is that it?"
Another issue worth noting is that Davis's talents are grossly underused here. Thankfully, there's one standout scene where her character, Liz, schools Ruth on the racial disparity that pervades the justice system during their standoff at her home. Still, it would've been so great to see more of the Fences star throughout the film.
So, is this a must-watch movie? If you're a die-hard Sandra Bullock fan, then yes, absolutely. Her performance is nothing short of phenomenal, and it's not every day that fans get to see this rom-com queen embody a convicted murderer who's rough around the edges. But considering its disappointing shock reveal, you might be better off watching Gravity.
PureWow Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Sandra Bullock delivers a show-stopping performance in this poignant film, although an altered ending would've made for a much more compelling story.
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