Names Have Power in ‘The Unforgivable’

Blood doesn’t make you family.”


Sandra Bullock stars as Ruth Slater, a convicted murderer released for good behaviour after serving twenty years in prison. She may be starting a new chapter, but her old deeds haven’t forgotten about her – she’s branded a cop killer the moment she sets foot outside as a free woman. Ruth’s sole driving force is to find her younger sister Katherine (Aisling Franciosi), who was taken from her and placed into foster care after she was arrested. 

As for Katherine herself, she’s older now and living with her adoptive family. Following a car accident, she’s moved back home to rest, which gives her too much time for her thoughts to wander. She’s still just as plagued by flashbacks and violence as Ruth is, though she can’t remember what any of it means. 

Ruth is enveloped by the past, but Katherine doesn’t want anything to do with it. At the same time, Keith (Tom Guiry) and Steve Whelan (Will Pullen), the sons of the man Ruth killed, can’t let go. They’re stalking Ruth and will do what they must to make her atone for her sins – even if that means taking a life for a life. 

The Unforgivable is director Nora Fingscheidt’s tenth film and first English language one. Fingscheidt’s piece is a “bleeding heart”, a blessing and a curse from which we all suffer from caring too much to not enough. 

The film is choppy in moments, pieces of memory overlapping with multiple storylines in the present. It makes for a kaleidoscopic effect, one that mirrors the reality that has been left fragmented as a result of Ruth’s choices. 


Ruth’s whole life is defined by the murder and the murder house where her crime took place. Prison, her old home, the vessel that is herself, are all cages imposing rules, norms, expectations, pain, and grief on her, trapping her in nightmares. 

The Unforgivable is a film that explores the depths of victimization and the hereditary nature of trauma. Fingscheidt’s film is packed with raw emotion. Though Ruth’s character is defined by stoicism and isolation, as always, Bullock does a marvellous job of portraying just how much this woman is hurting under the surface through her facial expressions, body language, and tone. Sister, protector, killer, convict, bitch, loner, stranger. Ruth quickly learns that names have power, and it’s the ones others give us that can be the most damning. It’s these names that are written in the darkest of blood and can’t be scrubbed away. 

The supporting cast is certainly worth mentioning as well. Franciosi is beautiful to watch on screen. Her character is sweet, kind, and gentle, three traits that contrast her elder sister; three traits she’s been forced to banish to the background thanks to the harsh cards she’s been dealt. Viola Davis is brilliant once again, and it is a bit of a shame that someone so captivating regardless of the role she’s given, is placed in a somewhat minor role. 

If one word could describe The Unforgivable, it’s grey – caught between the innocence of white and the darkness of black, is where Ruth’s story lies, and it can only be told this way. The rainy Seattle backdrop is grey, the thin line between right and wrong, forgiveness and the unforgivable is also shrouded in a veil of grey. 

Blood doesn’t make you family,” but that doesn’t mean you won’t hurt because of them either. The final few twists solidify this tale as one of heartbreak and healing, which, arguably, are necessary in order for every life to truly go on.

The Unforgivable is available to stream on Netflix now.

by Kacy Hogg 

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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