That’s what Ruth Slater is called everywhere she goes. Twenty years ago, she was sentenced to prison for murdering the Snohomish County Sheriff.
She’s out now—released early for good behavior—and all she wants to do is find her little sister, Katie. She was just 5 years old when big sis went to prison; after Ruth’s incarceration, Katie was placed in foster care.
However, due to a no-contact order, Ruth isn’t allowed to do anything but write letters to her sister. And since Katie’s adoptive parents hid those letters from their daughter, Ruth has never received a response her sister (who now goes by Katherine).
Ruth’s probation officer advises her to focus on work and keep her nose clean.
But try as she might to follow his advice, trouble just seems to follow Ruth. She gets beaten up by a colleague (the daughter of a police officer who isn’t pleased to learn about Ruth’s past), and she’s stalked by the sons of the man she murdered.
And since she couldn’t help but reach out to her little sis, now Katherine’s in danger, too.
Katherine’s adoptive family loves her. Everything they do is to protect her from further harm. And while their choice to hide Ruth’s letters from her may have been unwise (since it likely contributed to Katherine’s trauma), it’s not completely unwarranted given Ruth’s past. (Katherine affirms that she doesn’t want to search for her birth family because she loves her adoptive family.)
This isn’t the only case of protective parents. One woman keeps Ruth away from her sons. (Although she later helps Ruth after hearing more of her story.) A man refuses to give in to his brother’s plea for revenge because he wants to protect his own child.
And Ruth herself is the epitome of a protective “parent,” doing everything she can to stop Katie from becoming traumatized by her destructive choices. She tries to prevent Katie from being placed in foster care, for example. Ruth also lies to the police to protect her little sis and even places herself in harm’s way to physically guard Katie’s adoptive sister.
Ruth’s probation officer is strict but not unkind. Even though he is blunt with her, he only acts that way to keep Ruth from returning to prison.
The sheriff who died was kind to Ruth in the moments before his death. He had tried to talk Ruth out of a difficult situation (she was refusing to leave her house after being evicted) and even offered to let her and Katie stay with his family until she could get back on her feet.
Two boys are rightly punished for lying to their mother. A man gives Ruth a warm winter coat when he sees that hers isn’t sufficient. A lawyer helps Ruth find Katherine, since he sympathizes with kids in the foster care system and the unique struggles they face.
After finding a pair of baby shoes in a wall, a woman says some people believe they protect against evil spirits and puts the shoes back. Elsewhere, a woman wears a cross necklace.
A man catches his wife in the act of cheating on him with his brother. (We see the brother in his underwear and the wife’s bare back.)
A couple kisses. A trans person runs the halfway home where Ruth lives. We see a woman from the shoulders up in the shower (and someone tries to barge in on her for taking too long). Some men wolf-whistle at a woman and ask her to “show a little more.” (She is modestly dressed with a heavy winter coat.)
A man is shot in the head, and we see his bleeding corpse on the ground. A woman then points a gun and threatens several police officers as she leaves the scene of the crime. A man kidnaps and ties up a teenage girl, threatening to kill her with a gun. He also threatens to shoot Ruth. Law enforcement officers arrest several people, handling them roughly and pointing guns at them.
Two men plot to kill Ruth. One says they should beat her with baseball bats. These same two men get into a fist fight, and one roughly shoves his wife aside when she tries to stop them.
Ruth is savagely beaten by a coworker when the other woman (who is the daughter of a police officer) learns that Ruth killed a cop. Ruth shoves and hits one of her roommates several times. She is also physically held back by a lawyer while having a screaming match with Katherine’s parents. A woman swings a wrench at a man (and misses) when she mistakes him for a burglar. Ruth destroys drywall and construction equipment in anger.
We see a girl bandaged and bruised in a hospital bed after a car crash. (She fell asleep at the wheel.) We hear she has a broken rib, dislocated shoulder and concussion.
We learn that Ruth and Katie’s mother died in childbirth and that their father took his own life shortly after.
[Spoiler warning] Eventually, we learn that it was Katie, not Ruth, who shot the sheriff. She overheard Ruth yelling on the phone that she was going to use her gun if any officers came into their home. Scared and not entirely understanding what she was doing, Katie picked up Ruth’s gun and killed the sheriff as he snuck in through the back door of their house. The resulting recoil from the gun also knocked the small girl unconscious. That injury (plus the trauma of seeing a dead man) then caused Katie to have memory loss, allowing Ruth to take the blame for the man’s death and protect her five-year-old sister from being held responsible for the killing.
We hear the f-word about 35 times (once preceded by “mother” and once paired with Christ’s name) and the s-word 25 times. We also hear uses of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–k,” “h—,” “p-ss” and “pr–k.” God’s name is abused seven times, and Christ’s name is abused thrice.
The terms and conditions for Ruth’s parole include no drugs, drinking, bars or nightclubs. At one point, her probation officer asks if she’s been “using,” and she shows him her bare arms to prove she is clean. One of her roommates has drug paraphernalia. A woman jokingly tells her daughter “no crack today.”
People smoke and drink. We hear a woman “couldn’t stop drinking” after her husband died. Two girls blow on beer bottles to produce a musical tone.
Katherine neglects to take the medication she has been prescribed to help her sleep. A man notes that his medicine is giving him a physical tic.
Ruth has difficulty accepting that everyone she meets will see her as a criminal. She tries desperately to rise above the title of “cop killer,” but soon realizes that nobody, even other convicts, will see past that. (We learn she lost a job as a carpenter, despite her skills, because someone informed the foreman of her past before she even started.) So, she lies about her past to protect herself and to get a job, and she manipulates people into giving her what she wants.
Ruth befriends a colleague, but after he learns about her past, he tells her they can’t remain friends. (He’s an ex-con, too. And, like her, isn’t allowed to associate with anyone who has a record.) However, he then tells a few of their other coworkers about her time in prison (with the violent repercussions mentioned above). And though he apologizes, the damage is done, since Ruth’s reputation is tarnished.
Katherine suffers from trauma and memory loss. She often has flashbacks to the first five years of her life, but they are disjointed and confusing. We also learn that she is lying to her parents about taking the medication that helps with these problems, because she believes her intense emotions make her a better musician (and the drugs put a damper on those feelings). Her adoptive sister also helps her conceal this fact.
An interracial couple has a hard discussion about the foster care system and what would happen if their own sons (who are dark, like their mother) had been in Katherine’s place.
We hear people screaming at each other in anger. Flashbacks show a young Katie screaming in fear. Ruth’s current roommate rummages through her things without permission. Two men (with the help of some angry police officers) stalk Ruth and members of Katherine’s family, seeking revenge for their father. A teenage girl lies to her parents and skips school. A man refers to urination as “taking a waz.” A man empties a urostomy pouch.
If there’s one thing to credit Ruth for, it’s that she always has noble intentions. Everything she did in the past, and everything she’s doing in the present are to protect her sister.
But if you’re going to be noble, you also have to be prepared to face the consequences that might stem from your secretly honorable actions.
Ruth wasn’t entirely prepared. Was she ready to go to prison? Sure. But was she ready to be known as a cop-killer for the rest of her days? Not so much.
Still, rather than lash out and try to take some people down with her, she chooses to hold her head high and face her accusers head-on. And while it’s not an easy task, it’s the best course of action if she wants to continue protecting Katherine.
Unfortunately, this film’s noble intentions are overshadowed by its negative content.
Violence against police officers and women, foul language, extramarital affairs (including partial nudity), and especially, revenge, all permeate the plot of The Unforgivable.
Those issues may not be completely unforgivable for potential adult viewers. But they certainly make this a difficult drama to watch.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her fiancé indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.