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Starring: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Rob Morgan, Viola Davis, Emma Nelson, Will Pullen, Thomas Guiry
OUR RATING: ★★★☆☆
Netflix drama directed by Nora Fingscheidt. The Unforgivable (2021) follows Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock), who after being released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent crime, re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past. Facing severe judgment from the place she once called home, her only hope for redemption is finding the estranged younger sister she was forced to leave behind.
Vincent Cross: [to Ruth] The release plan. Read it. It’s how you stay out of here. Your Ten Commandments. No drugs, drinking, bars, nightclubs. No firearms, or any other weapons. You cannot associate with anyone with a criminal record. No known felons.
Vincent Cross: Does your release alter the terms of your no-contact order? Yes or no?
Ruth Slater: No.
Vincent Cross: Can you reach out to the victim’s family? Yes or no?
Ruth Slater: No.
Vincent Cross: Couple weeks staring at the ceiling, people sometimes want to make amends.
Ruth Slater: I got nothing to say.
Vincent Cross: [to Ruth] Guess you think you got this freedom thing all figured out, huh?
Keith Whelan: We’re going to just let this go? Twenty years of dad’s life, and this b**ch gets out early, for good behavior? What is that? You think dad would want that?
Steve Whelan: How do I know what dad would want, Keith?
Steve Whelan: Hey, you need to leave this alone.
Keith Whelan: You’re not with me on this?
Steve Whelan: No, I’m not with you. I got a family. I got a kid.
John Ingram: What are you up to? Look, you’ve been lying since you said hello. When people want a lawyer, they just call one up. Something’s not right. Ruth, what’s up with you?
Ruth Slater: I lived in that house with my little sister when my parents died. Went into the system. She got adopted, and that’s just the last place I was with her. I wrote her for years, and, you know, I didn’t hear anything back. I don’t know. I don’t even know if she’s alive. But I didn’t want to unload that on your family.
Katherine Malcolm: I’m like a bomb being disarmed.
Emily Malcolm: Are you having those nightmares again?
Katherine Malcolm: Sometimes. They’re just random flashes, so. Same as usual.
Emily Malcolm: What else do you remember?
Katherine Malcolm: There’s music. And a woman close to me, but I can’t make out who it is. I don’t know what she was to me.
Emily Malcolm: Aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know anything about your past?
Katherine Malcolm: No, Em. I don’t need proof that I’m more f***ed up than you are.
Vincent Cross: I’m thinking you look like hell.
Ruth Slater: You told me to get a job. I got two.
Vincent Cross: You better tell your boss who you are.
Ruth Slater: Why? I got to be a convict wherever I go?
Vincent Cross: No, you’re a cop killer everywhere you go. Yes. Sooner you accept it, the better.
Blake: I brought you this coat here. It’s really good, and I got another that’s smaller at home if this one’s too big, but this one’s way better. I mean, your coat sucks, so I just, I don’t know. Maybe you want to just try it on.
Ruth Slater: You brought me a jacket? Why?
Blake: Well, just so you’d be warm.
Ruth Slater: [leaving a message] John, it’s Ruth again. I didn’t give you the whole story. And I’m sure by now you’ve worked out all the parts I left out. Please give me a chance to explain. You know, for twenty years, I wrote thousands of letters. I did everything I could to reach her the way that the system wanted me to, but I didn’t hear anything. I don’t want to disrupt her life, and I’m not looking for a second chance. You know, man, I just want to know that she’s okay. If I had told you the full truth, you wouldn’t have offered to help me. And I know that’s not an excuse, but I really need your help. If I could just maybe just talk to the parents. Please, John, she’s my sister.
Keith Whelan: [referring to the cops] They’re not going to care what we do.
Steve Whelan: There’s no “we”. You’re not going to do anything anyway. I mean, you just talk like always.
Keith Whelan: You’re the one who doesn’t do anything.
Keith Whelan: [to Steve] She walks around free. She’s got a job and a guy. She lives like it never happened. Now, you tell me if that’s fair.
Liz Ingram: [after finding out Ruth’s convict] If that were any of your Black sons who had been in the system in this situation, they would be dead.
John Ingram: I’m just saying that she did her time, and she has every right…
Liz Ingram: I’m not talking about her rights. I’m talking about her lying.
John Ingram: Well, if she tells the truth, she’s denied her rights, you know that as well as me.
Liz Ingram: No, that is not the reality for that woman.
John Ingram: That’s a reality.
Steve Whelan: It’s some really nice work in here. Well, your parents must be proud.
Ruth Slater: I don’t know. They’re dead. Listen, I got to run. Thanks for the help.
Steve Whelan: That’s rough. Your parents dying.
Ruth Slater: Yeah, but life goes on, right?
Vincent Cross: You trying to contact your sister?
Ruth Slater: It’s my right.
Vincent Cross: No, you lost those rights twenty years ago.
Ruth Slater: It’s my f***ing family.
Vincent Cross: Blood doesn’t make you family, Ruth. Get that s**t out your head.
Vincent Cross: [to Ruth] There’s a reason why your sister hasn’t contacted you. You’re a convict. All she knows of you is as a killer. She’s probably scared of you. Let that girl live her life. Your life starts here, now. Not twenty years ago! She’s actually better off without you.
Keith Whelan: You talked to her?
Steve Whelan: You want to know what she said? She said, “Life goes on.” You were right. It’s not fair.
Keith Whelan: You serious right now?
Steve Whelan: Not your bulls**t plan. She’s still got a sister out there. Let’s do to her what she did to us.
Ruth Slater: I was in prison. I just got out.
Blake: Shut up. Why would you say that?
Ruth Slater: I was in for twenty years.
Blake: For what?
Ruth Slater: Sheriff. Snohomish sheriff. Murder.
Blake: An accident?
[Ruth shakes her head]
Rachel Malcolm: She’s an adult. We waited too long for this. But we could just go and listen to what she has to say. Maybe there’s something she can tell us to help Katherine.
Michael Malcolm: Or she can do 23andMe. She doesn’t have to talk to a murderer. Go look at her. Does she look like she’s ready to confront that?
Rachel Malcolm: No.
Michael Malcolm: Thank you.
Rachel Malcolm: But we are. Call the lawyer. Or I will.
Ruth Slater: [after she’s been beaten up at work, to Vince] I’m going to help you out, so you don’t have to give me a little speech. I f***ed up. Did not keep my head down. And you’re right. Cop killer everywhere I go. And next time, don’t drag me through three bus transfers to tell me something I already know.
Vincent Cross: If I was going to give you a speech, I’d tell you that everybody ends up here. Where you got to decide how you’re going to be, because this world is nothing like you thought. And everything you learned in the yard just keeps you on a path to right back inside.
Ruth Slater: People are exactly the same out here as they are in the yard. Exactly.
Vincent Cross: Question is, do you want to be the same?
Vincent Cross: [to Ruth] And clean yourself up a little. Act like I’m teaching you stuff.
Michael Malcolm: [to Ruth] Katherine has no conscious memory of her life before us. She was traumatized. Now she’s doing well. Of course she struggles sometimes, like everyone, but she has opportunities she never would’ve had.
Rachel Malcolm: She’s very talented.
Michael Malcolm: She has a good life. A loving family. Stability. Who would it possibly benefit to disrupt that?
Ruth Slater: My mom died having her, so I raised her from a baby. Dad didn’t do anything before he gave up. He quit. I didn’t. I don’t quit. Not on Katie.
Michael Malcolm: Whatever her life was like before, and I’m sure there were good moments, they were obliterated by what you did.
Ruth Slater: Does she really not remember me?
Michael Malcolm: She doesn’t.
Ruth Slater: I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that she doesn’t remember me.
Ruth Slater: Did you get any of my letters? Did Katie read any of my letters?
Michael Malcolm: Everything we did, we did in her best interest.
Ruth Slater: What did you f***ing do to my letters?
Ruth Slater: I spent twenty years in a f***ing cell the size of your walk-in closet, waiting for one shred of information!
Michael Malcolm: You were in that cell for a reason!
Ruth Slater: What gives you the reason to treat me like I don’t exist?!
Michael Malcolm: [to John] You keep her away from us!
Ruth Slater: I exist!
Rachel Malcolm: I didn’t burn your letters.
Ruth Slater: Then tell her about me!
Blake: I’m a convict. I got out of Clallam a year and a half ago. I’m sorry, Ruth. You just, it hit me. You said what you said, and I just froze, and I f***ing sat there like an a**hole, and I hate myself for it. But… You’re on active, right? Yeah, no known felons. I mean, s**t, we’re in violation just standing here, right? Ruth, I had to talk to somebody. I guess word got out. I’m sorry, Ruth. I’m sorry for everything.
Emily Malcolm: Skip school a lot?
Ruth Slater: We all do things we probably shouldn’t, but we get back on track, right?
Emily Malcolm: Yeah.
Ruth Slater: Wish I’d gone to school more. I really liked it.
Ruth Slater: I wonder all the time what she looks like, what she became.
Emily Malcolm: She plays the piano. She’s really good at it too. Katherine doesn’t know about you. She has memories.
Ruth Slater: What kind of memories?
Emily Malcolm: I think I should go. Nobody knows that I’m here.
Ruth Slater: Okay. It’s alright. Thank you for talking to me.
Liz Ingram: She was taken away from you because of your choices, you have to live with that.
Ruth Slater: Look, please don’t talk to me about choices right now, okay?
Liz Ingram: Listen, no one forced you to kill that man, or lie your way into my house.
Ruth Slater: I’m sorry for everything that happened here. I went to prison for half my life, so I think I’ve more than paid for it. Okay?
Liz Ingram: You were sent to prison! You have to take responsibility for that!
Liz Ingram: You lost your opportunity. Lost it! John looks at you, and he sees someone who deserves a second chance. I don’t see that! I hear someone who’d say anything to get what she wants.
Ruth Slater: You would do exactly the same thing for your kids! Exactly!
Liz Ingram: Oh, no. Don’t go there. Don’t even pretend this is about her.
Ruth Slater: I was protecting her!
Liz Ingram: You are not a victim!
Ruth Slater: I had to make a choice!
Liz Ingram: Face it, you traumatized her. Do not even pretend this is about her!
Ruth Slater: I f***ing said I did it! She was only five years-old!
Liz Ingram: What happened, Ruth?
[we see in flashback that it was Katherine that shot the sheriff]
Ruth Slater: It was my fault. I did it.
Ruth Slater: [over phone] Don’t you lay a finger on her.
Steve Whelan: What do you care? “Life goes on,” right?
Ruth Slater: [after we see the Whelans have mistakingly taken Emily] You’re making a mistake. Let her go. She’s innocent.
Steve Whelan: Now you give a s**t?
Ruth Slater: She’s just a kid.
Steve Whelan: So was I. Now you’re going to watch your sister die.
Ruth Slater: He was kind. And I am so sorry I took him away from you.
Steve Whelan: It’s too f***ing late.
Ruth Slater: You think this is going to make you feel better? But life doesn’t go on.
Steve Whelan: Shut up. Shut up.
Ruth Slater: You leave behind everything you love. I’m so sorry.
Vincent Cross: [after the police arrive to arrest Steve] Gentlemen, she’s my parolee. I mean, unless you have a charge, I’ll take custody. Let’s go, uncuff her. You okay?
Ruth Slater: Yeah.
[as she’s leaving Katherine notices her, comes over and embraces her]