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'The Unforgivable' review: Compelling thriller carried by engrossing Sandra Bullock

Well-paced and affecting, "The Unforgivable" reminds me of those well-made yet underseen 90's thrillers that didn't have a lot of flash and dance.

ST. LOUIS — Are we ever truly forgiven for murder? Sure, the prison system will dump you out into society like a fish who forgot how to swim, but is there forgiveness out there somewhere? What I liked about Nora Fingscheidt's new film, "The Unforgivable," is that it produced a compelling story around this burning question.

When the film opens, we are introduced immediately to the hardened prisoner Ruth Slater. Played with intense focus by Sandra Bullock, Ruth committed an unspeakable crime, one that she served 20 years for. Thankfully, the screenplay-comprised by Peter Craig, Hilary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles-doesn't give away clues that easily, Instead of giving away all the goods early on, the tale allows the edgy characters and bleak surroundings to team up with flashbacks to slowly unearth the crime that turned the life of Ruth, as well as her younger sister Katherine (Aisling Franciosi), upside down.

Bullock plays Ruth like a woman who is carrying a boulder on her shoulder, and it's an engrossing performance to witness. She powers most of the film's dramatic notes, elevating Ruth's voice and mood frequently. Past the scowl that makes an appearance in every scene she's in, there's a quiet vulnerability and tenderness that lurks behind the shadows.

Without knowing exactly what she did, the audience is pulled in by Bullock's ability to keep your mind open on Ruth. The actress gives a potent performance that mixes her star power with an ability to climb into an unsavory role.

The supporting cast follows Bullock's lead, lifting up the material when it hits a snag or runs too far into conventional thriller clichés. The always credible Jon Bernthal, who seems to be in a movie every other week, has a small yet nice turn as Blake, a co-worker of Ruth's who tries to pry his way through the cold ice surrounding this misunderstood woman. Viola Davis shares a vital and extremely well-acted scene with Bullock, and Vincent D'Onofrio makes the most of an underwritten role.

"The Unforgivable" isn't an awards-caliber film. That's not the goal here. As my dad said during the screening, there's one thing the audience needs to see and feel before the end credits-something that develops with clarity as the smooth running time sails along-and that happens.

It's not overly dramatic or a standard thriller, but Fingscheidt's film prefers to live in the gray area of unfortunate incidents and how they can grow limbs over time in a small town.

Well-paced and affecting, "The Unforgivable" reminds me of those well-made yet underseen 90's thrillers that didn't have a lot of flash and dance, but kept your interest locked until the very end. Here, it's a satisfying and even hopeful finish--with a nice twist thrown in that makes the film better instead of worse.

The movie is currently playing in theaters before streaming on Netflix starting on Dec. 10.

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