Review – Jail Bird Bullock (“The Unforgivable”)

This Netflix movie, with Sandra Bullock, is based on the 2009 British three-episode miniseries written by Sally Wainwright, about a woman who attempts to rebuild her life after being released from prison after killing a cop.

Originally scheduled as a 2010 movie with Angelina Jolie and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, this Covid rescheduled film gets the streaming treatment with Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-worthy role. Bullock plays Ruth Slater, a recently paroled cop-killer in the small town of Snohomish, Washington. After spending some eleven years behind bars, Ruth has two things on her mind: trying to survive after prison in the bleak and cold city and finding her long-lost little sister, Katie, who was taken away and given up to foster parents.

But that’s not going to be easy since nobody likes an ex-con and everyone hates a former cop-killer, especially the two grown sons of the dead officer, Keith and Steve Whelan (Tom Guiry and Will Pullen). After some trying, Ruth lands two jobs: a graveyard shift at a fish market and a construction job at a community center, where she’s more at home building things. She also meets a fellow worker and nice guy, Blake (Jon Bernthal), at the fish market, but she has to be careful as her by-the-book parole officer (Rob Morgan) is always there to make sure she toes the line.

On a whim, she revisits her former home where the murder went down and finds the new owners, the Ingrams (Vincent D’Onofrio & Viola Davis), who have completely refurbished it. Luckily, John Ingram is a lawyer and agrees to help Ruth in finding and meeting her grown sister, Katie (Aisling Franciosi), who’s now Katherine Malcolm, and living with her new mom (Linda Emond), dad (Richard Thomas), and sister Emily (Emma Nelson). While Ruth is busy getting some kind of a life together and finding it tough, the brothers Whelan are hard at work stalking her and planning something diabolical and full of revenge.

After a catastrophic meeting between Ruth and Katie’s new parents, Ruth is resigned to never see her sister again, but fate steps in as a very curious Emily calls her and wants to meet. As the wheels of planning are set into motion, the third act delivers a gripping and pulse-pounding finale! It also gives you some of the best acting with Bullock and Davis that will just tear your heart out. Hey, just in time for Christmas, right? LOL!

Peter Craig (Bad Boys For Life), Hillary Seitz (Eagle Eye), and first-timer Courtenay Miles (TV series Mindhunter) have adapted the BBC TV series into a thoroughly depressing, gut-wrenching, and heart-breaking film that is a magnificent showcase for Sandra Bullock, as she shows off why she’s a proven Oscar winner. Taking the John Rambo approach, Ruth hardly talks, but conveys her feelings with her painful looks and expressive body language. Wearing barely any make-up, Bullock is a walking trainwreck, disheveled, and emotionally checked-out, except when she explodes in a fit of anger, then watch out! Just watch the scene where she and Viola Davis square-off between each other. It’s awesome!

Nora Fingscheidt is a German director and screenwriter and her skills are excellent, moving the camera like a pro, even though her previous works have been film shorts and docs. This is her first-time directing in the U.S. Who’da thunk? While the movie is somber and waves a depressing flag, you can’t argue with the intensity of the acting & writing. Even the co-stars shine; I wanted more of the underused Bernthal, Richard Thomas is great, and Pullen is both creepy and sad. So, after you get through watching all 856 of those Hallmark Christmas movies, check out this ripping little nugget. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a box of tissues, you’re gonna need it!

**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix 

Les Miserables (2012)

I tell ya, when Victor Hugo writes a depressing novel, he writes a depressing novel! Those familiar with the story through the various books, movies, and the wildly successful stage musicals have already come to know just how utterly uplifting, yet completely miserable this story turns out to be. As in Hamlet, nearly everyone dies in the end, except this one is set to glorious music.

Set in 1820’s France, we have the story of convict 24601 (aka Jean Valjean), played by Broadway/movie actor Hugh Jackman, who was sentenced to 20 years hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. Harsh. He is soon released on parole, but is hounded by his nemesis, villainous Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) throughout the movie for breaking said parole. After having his “soul bought by God” by a kindly Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), an angry and bitter Valjean turns his life around and becomes the respected Mayor of a small village.

But an employee of his, Fantine (Anne Hathaway, looking emaciated) is near death and Valjean takes pity on her. Before she dies, he rescues her little girl, Cosette (Isabelle Allen) from the clutches of wacky innkeepers/thieves, the Thenardier’s (Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter). On the run from Javert, the two hide out in a Paris convent where, fast forward nine years later, a revolution breaks out and Valjean and an older Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) must contend with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), the young leader who falls in love with Cosette. Too bad Éponine (Samantha Barks) has a severe case of the hots for Marius. Then there’s that rascal, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), the little streetwise urchin who….well, let’s just say he’s never gonna see EuroDisney anytime soon.

Valjean and Javert soon meet up again, there’s a dramatic shoot-out with the local police and the student revolutionaries, and a dramatic, sad, sad, ending. . . and all with music! Make sure you bring a tissue box. One thing’s for sure, director Tom Hooper can’t direct a musical. WAY too many sweeping shots, long steady-cam single-takes, insane CLOSE-UP’S, and not enough cut-aways (edits) spoiled this movie for me. The Thenardier’s number, usually a show-stopping comedic highlight in the stage version, is wasted here with a myriad of jump cuts and bad vocal choices. Russell Crowe is NOT a singer, by any means, so why pick him?

Yes, the picture LOOKS and SOUNDS great, with Jackman and Hathaway saving the film from total disaster, but really, I had such high hopes and expectations for this movie when I first heard about it, especially the choice of filming the singers live, instead of on a playback recording. Oh, well. *sigh* If you truly want to see what this musical is all about in its rich beauty & vocal glory, check out the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Live Musical Stage Show. It’s incredible   

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