My little sister, my everything

MY old house. Ruth Slater is played by Sandra Bullock in a still from Nora Fingscheidt’s film The Unforgivable. Photograph courtesy

WHEN IT COMES to skop, skiet en donder films, you know the drill, if you’ve been watching films for a year or two. It’s clear who the baddies are. And the goodies. And you know that when the felon, deemed guilty by the system, goes to jail, they get dealt with in jail accordingly, by the felons they find there. But the worst sin of all is the killing of a cop. It ranks top of the pile as a vindication for cop brutality – and there is, of course, a whole litany of how art and life intersect, particularly in contemporary America. When it comes, however, to Nora Fingscheidt’s recently released Netflix film, The Unforgivable, more is thrown into the mix.

Underlying a tale of trial by community, is a firm understanding of the bond between sisters, and this is extrapolated through a representation of childhood trauma, memory and forgetting and where the establishment steps in. Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock) has been in the clink for murder, for 20 years. She emerges to pick up her life again and she’s bitter and hardened by the experience. She has carpentry credentials, very muscular arms and is not afraid of hard and dirty work. She’s clearly someone you don’t want to cross.

But in picking up those pieces, she tests the elasticity of parole generosity and of other people’s perceptions of her. She stands in the face of a community – with a couple of easily bent cops, brothers, who have a stake in Ruth’s crime offering a side-story – and carries the proverbial mark of Esau in her history. Which is indelible.

Toss in a bit of a piano recital, a little girl all grown up in the bosom of a wholesome family, replete as she is with not taking her meds because she plays better without them, this film will keep you rivetted. Bullock’s portrayal of Ruth is gaunt and haunted in appearance, and raw and focused in its articulation. She’s opposite the formidable Viola Davis in several key scenes which are about the history that a house can contain, and the secrets it covers.

This is an excellent piece of filmography for all the right entertainment reasons. Offering insight into how the memory works and what it retains and erases in the face of self-preservation, this is a compelling work, and evokes pieces such as British TV series Trial and Retribution IV of 2000 – directed by Michael Whyte – in which the memory is encouraged to do tricks, by experts in the know. The Unforgivable is not great literature, but will keep you on the edge of your chair from beginning to end.

The Unforgivable is directed by Nora Fingscheidt and features a cast headed by Alistair Abell, Jeremy Arnold, William Belleau, Jon Bernthal, W. Earl Brown, Sandra Bullock, Tamara Bunker, Jessica Charbonneau, Bobbi Charlton, Simon Chin, Michelle Choi-Lee, Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Linda Emond, Carolyn Field, Aisling Franciosi, Andrew Francis, Tom Guiry, Toby Hargrave, Neli Kastrinos, Sarah Kelley, Patti Kim, Art Kitching, Jessica McLeod, Viva Leacock, Cynthia Loewen, Orlando Lucas, Craig March, Flossie McKnight, Kelly-Ruth Mercier, Paul Moniz de Sa, Angela Moore, Rob Morgan, Emma Nelson, Aaron Pearl, Will Pullen, Willy Ross, Donavon Stinson, Richard Thomas, Julie Tao, Joyanna Tonge, Janet Walmsley and Jude Wilson. It is written by Peter Craig, Courtenay Miles and Hillary Seitz, based on the 2009 British TV series Unforgiven by Sally Wainwright. Produced by Sandra Bullock, Veronica Ferres and Graham King, it features creative input by David Fleming and Hans Zimmer (music), Guillermo Navarro (cinematography), Stephan Bechinger and Joe Walker (editing), Francine Maisler (casting), Kim Jennings (production design) and Alex Bovaird (costume design). Release date on Netflix: 24 November 2021.

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