The Sandra Bullock-starrer ‘The Unforgivable’ hit Netflix a couple of days back and has already made it to the trending list. The movie focuses on Ruth (Bullock), who is released after serving a twenty-year sentence for supposedly killing a police officer. Katherine, her only blood relative, has been placed with a foster family. Ruth works two jobs, hires a lawyer, and intends to get a chance to meet with her. All along. unbeknownst to her, the sons of the officer she killed plot their revenge. ‘The Unforgivable’ tries its level best to distance itself from similar iterations about convicts looking to reconnect with their old lives. Bullock’s performance and her character’s emotions are thankfully not simplified. That is until the scene where the “big reveal” hits. And that is where it somewhat loses the uniqueness that it craftily creates in a weary genre trope setting.

Viola Davis features in a breezy cameo, so does Vincent D’Onoforio (Wilson Fisk from ‘Daredevil’) but the movie is all about Bullock’s Ruth. Despite the predictability, there is a strong emotional vein that is aroused as Ruth’s frustrations start getting the better of her. Changin and making a better choice is easier said than done. When the tide is decisively against you, and with prejudice, keeping on the redemption path seems impossible. If you liked some of these things in ‘The Unforgivable’, read on to know about other films like it you might enjoy.

10. Losing Isaiah (1995)

‘Losing Isaiaah’ is another winning story of a woman looking to rebuild her life and find meaning in it. The overarching theme is the same as ‘The Unforgivable’. The star cast includes names like Halle Berry and Jessica Lange, who play similar characters to Ruth and Rachel. There is an added race dynamic here that is subtle but impactful. Additionally, the film also dramatizes the forlorn prospects of drug addiction and how hard it actually is to take control of yourself under their influence. There is a scene in ‘The Unforgivable’ where Vincent asks Ruth why she is so edgy and asks her to show her arms. This does seem to indicate that it was a conscious choice on part of the filmmakers to keep this theme on the sidelines.

But there is a larger question of the dynamics of motherhood and love that ‘Losing Isaiah’ explores. It tries to reach a more wholesome conclusion but suffers from a lack of sincere execution. Flaws besides, there is enough here for a meaningful watch. A solid follow-up to ‘The Unforgivable’.

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9. Out of the Furnace (2013)

Movies Like The Unforgivable - out of the furnace

Affleck’s character walks a weary man carrying the burden of war on his back. In ‘Out of Furnace’, the value of human life suffers. Trauma becomes the spark of the beginning of the end for him. The consuming nature of suffering inundates both protagonists. It hurts, even more, when the threatening of the safety of their loved ones is a direct result of their past actions.

Without bringing in too much exposition, Scott Cooper is able to deflect most of the commonplace stereotypes attached with films of this genre. His minimalist direction is an important step in establishing the scope of his examination and the broad strokes for the story. His style is assertive and admittedly, he is equally wasteful of all the talent he has at his hands. ‘Out of Furnace’, like ‘The Unforgivable’, is an assertive story of individuals trumping their fiercest odds. There is no pity, or sympathy that the two films put on a platter for you but maintain the bare minimum that will appeal to your senses.

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8. Changeling (2008)

Movies Like The Unforgivable - Changeling

Changeling‘ will leave you with an unpleasant experience. The Clint Eastwood film is not one that gives many moments of joy and is actually, quite depressing. But it is still worth watching for its grim depiction of true incidents that will shock your soul. Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, who like Ruth, aims to get back with her son, Walter. Walter is kidnapped in broad daylight when Christine is away. Christine searches everywhere. Her critical behavior towards the police department leads her to be committed to institutional care. Her ironclad will and spirit overcome these challenges, only for her to learn a sad truth about her boy.

Like in ‘The Unforgivable’, the odds are turned against Christine. The impression that they want to work to find his son, the police, the media, and other players in the nexus do their best only to save their own faces. There are other redeemable characters like Vincent who genuinely try to do their job and help Ruth, in ‘Changeling’, but they are far and in between. Due to the film being set in 1928, ‘Changeling’ looks somewhat processed and clumsy, even. But compared to ‘The Unforgavble’, it has its heart in the right place.

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7. Shot Caller (2017)

Nicolaj Waldau is terrific as the reformed gang head in ‘Shot Caller’. His persona, physique all contribute to creating a compelling character sketch. Jacob’s motivations after jail are similar to Ruth’s. He wants to get back with his family, who still view him as the respectful and caring patriarch.

His plans, though, are disrupted by his jail boss, who threatens to murder his family. This forces him to write the letter at the start of the film and sets the tone for an exciting journey ahead for viewers. The thrill element in ‘The Unforgivable’ is sufficiently differentiated from ‘Shot Caller’, but the core theme remains the same.

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6. The Woodsman (2004)

The indifferent walls of a jail provide an insightful haven of equality. The egalitarian treatment of inmates is sound in reason but weighs in on each person differently. For Walter, it becomes a living hell. His convicted acts attract special attention from other felons who find it worthy to make a run for it to save themselves in their own eyes. A brilliant Kevin Bacon plays the antagonist, who is returned to the world after twelve years in prison for child molestation. His road to redemption in a small town is hardly given confidence by upset people, who, after discovering his past, feel well within their right to ostracize him. Walter’s family disowns him and vows to maintain the status quo. Without hope, Walter nearly falls into his old habits, further putting the viewer in a quandary if individuals with these proclivities can really change.

Ruth faces a more severe dilemma of not knowing what lies ahead. In many ways, her going to prison in the first place was not a conscious item in her state of mind. It is like the inevitability of a penalty for a goalkeeper; at some point, Walter could foresee what was coming for him. It was a question of “if”, not “when”. This mix of similarity and dissimilarity in their circumstances is why the two characters are comparable. Walking the hard road takes a special kind of courage, the one that you find in abundance in them.

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5. Sling Blade (1996)

Movies Like The Unforgivable - Sling Blade

Without too much cultural context, one goes into ‘Sling Blade’ expecting it to be yet another dark, somber film set in southern America. But as it turns out, it is the film that accomplishes so much with so little. Billy Bob Thornton’s opening monologue sets the tone for an immensely engaging, shocking, and grounded story of a mentally disabled man released into a world he understands nothing about.

Like Ruth, he is released a chained man, held back by his inability to fathom the reality of the world. Compassion is not something they seek but stumbles upon it in the form of a friend. While there is an unsaid dread that defines ‘Sling Blade’s atmosphere, it also promises to disrupt the cadence to lead to something happier. Not in the mind of the viewer but Karl (Thornton). ‘The Unforgivable’ might not have matched ‘Sling Blade’s intensity in the character sketch but surely is a worthy watch alongside it.

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4. Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Ruth’s wait to see Katherine spanned over two decades. Wendy’s does not last that long but is surely as painful to watch. Kelly Reichhardt’s film about companionship, separation, and sacrifice is unnerving, to say the least. Michelle Williams is so at home playing characters who are emotionally unstable and find themselves in ungainly situations. Her Wendy is arrested for shoplifting dog food. Lucy, whom she ties outside, gets picked up by a noble samaritan. Wendy is frenetic when she cannot find Lucy. She wanders the neighborhood, finally stumbling upon her in a place where “she can do no good for her”. The dynamic that they have is similar to Ruth and Katherine’s. When Ruth goes to meet the foster parents with her lawyer, the father casually asks, “What good would you meeting Katherine do to her”? And he is practically right.

Irrespective of how Katherine went through the trauma, experiencing the same memories would be disastrous for her. Ruth’s rather selfish urge to make contact with her is something that Wendy almost does. When she finds her, she only thinks of taking her back. But she soon realizes that Lucy has a good life. She has a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and people who love her. Her sacrificial act to leave her and come back when she can look after her is rarely understood.

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3. Corpus Christi (2019)

Corpus Christi‘ is surprisingly adventurous given how melancholic its themes are. Most foreign dramas come across as too languid, diminishing their commercial appeal. There is generally an overtly contemplative tone, which is not bad but isolates them from the mainstream eye. ‘Corpus Christi’ is big on humor. The edgy setting of a juvenile defecting from a care center and becoming a village priest offers a slice-of-life experience. The unexpected warmth in Daniel’s character and his interactions with the townsfolk endures even as the truth about his identity is outed.

‘The Unforgivable’ provides only glimpses of Ruth’s tender side. The time she spends with Aaron (Jon Bernthal) uncovers her yearning for love and most important of all, that is capable of being loved and being vulnerable. Sweeping remarks about convicts showcase a mindset that takes them for granted. Both films defy the norm and build upon the measured trend to tread the path less taken.

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2. Submarino (2010)

Movies Like The Unforgivable - Submarino

Thomas Vinterberg is one of the biggest names in international cinema. His ‘Another Round‘ recently triumphed at the Oscars in the Best International Feature Film category. His short filmography is mostly comprised of films based on the ‘Dogma 95’ idealogy. There is a profound emphasis laid on the aspects of the production process that are fully in the filmmaker’s control sans the use of modern innovations like special effects. ‘Submairno’ is an exciting dive into the life of two brothers who are unable to reconcile with their pasts. The film is built not to redeem their lives but show how they have failed. Detached from any element of romanticism, ‘Submarino’ is a visceral movie-watching experience that is genuinely self-aware of its limitations and dedicated to realizing the vision of its creator.

A strong sense of realism pervades through Vinterberg’s characters and setting. The unforgiving nature of his visual language is seldom presented on-screen with such authenticity. Ruth’s emotional core is similar to Nick’s. They find themselves in similar positions and go through a trauma that is possibly fatal for an ordinary man’s consciousness. The burden lies heavy but so does the will to survive. They represent interesting character studies examined in the most testing of times to reaffirm the indomitable spirit of life.

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1. Sherrybaby (2006)

Movies Like The Unforgivable - Sherrybaby

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Sherry, a character who finds herself in a similar position like Ruth. After getting released, she starts a search for her daughter, who hardly recognizes her anymore. Her attempts to rebuild her life are impeded by her heroin addiction. Almost every detail of her reminds one of Ruth. Their tangible indignance at the state of their lives and the people around them arouses similar emotions. ‘Sherrybaby’ veers towards more of a “help me” kind of approach. Sherry is shown to be in denial about what has happened to her life and her inability to come out of it. Ruth, on the other hand, seems content with what has transpired in the sense that she cannot go back and change it. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal is a bit more in tune with how someone in Sherry’s position would react to things. It is steadier in tone and more consistent than Bullock’s Ruth. Nonetheless, ‘Sherrybaby’ does a phenomenal job of managing expectations and sculpting a poignant portrayal of a woman in disarray and is a similar watch to ‘The Unforgivable’.


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