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Going Home Again 

The Unforgiveable and Belfast

click to enlarge Psyching myself up for a holiday party in a pandemic.

The Unforgiveable

Psyching myself up for a holiday party in a pandemic.

THE UNFORGIVEABLE. Despite the occasional — frequent? — foray into forgettable, if not regrettable, studio pap, Sandra Bullock continues to build on a career as one of the hardest working, most dependable, most bankable stars in Hollywood. And, like fellow stalwart Halle Berry, she persists in doing so despite the active, often aggressive, always malignant sexism and misogyny inherent in her industry and American culture at large (though obviously without the racism Berry has been plagued by). She has had prominent roles in major Hollywood movies almost every year, since the early 1990s and for much of that time has worked as a producer on her own starring projects and others. All while navigating the fire-swamp of a culture obsessed with celebrity and a virulent strain of media determined to expose the personal lives of people living in the public eye. She's the American movie badass and, while I may not like every movie she makes, I have nothing but respect for her strength, composure and acumen. So, while this is a brief discussion about an interesting new movie — one of substance, I might add — it is also very much about the new Sandra Bullock movie.

The first English language feature from German director Nora Fingsheidt, The Unforgivable is an adaptation (by Peter Craig, Hilary Seitz and Courtenay Miles) of the 2009 U.K. mini-series Unforgiven (I guess Clint owns that title for our purposes) created by Sally Wainwright.

Ruth Slater (Bullock), in the opening moments, is being released from prison in Washington state. She has served 20 years for the murder of a Snohomish sheriff (W. Earl Brown) who was attempting (gently, it should be said) to evict Ruth and her 5-year-old sister from the farmhouse where they had lived with their parents, lately deceased. Re-emerging, Ruth finds herself unalterably branded a cop-killer. The carpentry job she had been promised is summarily denied her without documented cause and anyone who knows about her past stands in judgment.

Having taken a night job at a fish-processing plant and a dayshift building a community center for the homeless, Ruth finds a way out of the chaotic, dangerous halfway house where she had been staying. She minds her own business, even starting to befriend a coworker (Jon Bernthal), but then things start to unravel. Tortured by estrangement from her little sister, Ruth returns to the farmhouse, where she meets Liz (Viola Davis) and John Ingram (Vincent D'Onorfrio), who have recently purchased the place. John, a corporate lawyer, asks a few probing questions and eventually agrees to aid Ruth in reaching out to her sister's adoptive parents. Meanwhile, the sons of the slain sheriff (whose lives are as messy as anyone's) learn of Ruth's release and begin fantasizing about revenge.

There are a few more threads to the plot, which suggests the movie might be trying to encompass more story that it can within a reasonable run-time. And while that may leave some of the secondary and tertiary characters (and arcs) somewhat underdeveloped, the performances of the main cast carry through, with Bullock continually existing on the diaphanous boundary of breakdown throughout. Bernthal, who has become one my favorite (subjective) and most consistently compelling (objective) actors of his generation, plays a bit against type here, forsaking toughness for a profound sadness and compassion emanating from unfathomably deep eyes. Davis and D'Onofrio, unsurprisingly, become stars every time the camera finds them, and the movie gives Davis a moment to make the sort of haymaker speech that is one of her trademarks.

It is unarguable The Unforgivable succeeds in large part because of its stellar supporting cast but at the end of the day, it is Bullock's movie. And unlike Bird Box (2018), her most recent feature (also for Netflix), it feels like a fully formed work. Like her character, it balances toughness and reluctant vulnerability with compassion and the need for connection. While the narrative might get a little unwieldy, underdeveloped out of necessity, the center can hold. R. 121M.

BELFAST. There is a whole little school of prestigious filmmakers, toward the late-middle of storied careers, finally finding it within themselves to tell a personal story. It's a bit of a cliche, and the fact that said filmmakers often feel compelled to photograph their stories in luminous black and white, lending a timelessness and perhaps inflated sense of importance to them, can add to an air of pretension.

Which is not to say I have anything against Kenneth Branagh or his Belfast, or Alfonso Cuarón and Roma, with which I think the more recent movie will inevitably be compared. Just saying, it's maybe a little on the nose.

Having gotten that out of the way, Branagh's movie, a veiled autobiographical portrait of a family struggling financially as their homeland is riven by religious separatism in 1969, is indeed a beautiful and lively work of art. Told primarily from the point of view of 9(ish)-year-old Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill), it has a reverence for its setting and the filament of family and community straining to keep itself intact. It has within it moments of joy, discovery, tragedy and humor, an honest representation of the world as it experienced for the first time, in youth. Let it be a cliché, it still works, in an unpretentiousness though possibly prettied-up way. PG13. 98M.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

NOW PLAYING

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG. Live-action and CG adaptation of the children's story. Starring Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall and Izaac Wang. PG. 97M. BROADWAY.

DUNE. This screen adaptation of the sci-fi tome by director Denis Villenueve spices it up with Zendaya, Timotheé Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa. PG13. 155M. MILL CREEK, HBO MAX, AMAZON, STREAMING.

ENCANTO. Animated adventure about the only non-magical girl in a gifted Colombian family. Voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero and John Leguizamo. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH. Expat journalists get the Wes Anderson treatment, with Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro and Adrien Brody. R. 103M. MINOR.

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE. Multi-generational ghost busting starring Paul Rudd and evil marshmallows. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

HOUSE OF GUCCI. Lady Gaga stars as the real-life Patrizia Reggiani who married into the fashion dynasty and hired a hitman to murder her ex and keep her in fabulous resort wear. R. 157M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MINOR.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY. King of horror-fantasy Guillermo del Toro creates a carnival experience we will all be afraid of, with Bradley Cooper, Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. See what happens when you take your mask off? Starring Tom Holland and Zendaya. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

WEST SIDE STORY. Here's hoping Steven Spielberg's remake brings back dance fighting. Starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler. PG13. 156M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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