dir Benedict Andrews
scr David Harrower
prd Maya Amsellem, Patrick Daly, Jean Doumanian
with Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Ruby Stokes, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha Little, Tobias Menzies, Indira Varma, Isobelle Molloy, Sydney Wade, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Ciaran McMenamin
release US Sep.16 tff, UK Oct.16 lff
16/UK Film4 1h34
Back for closure: Mara

mendelsohn shmed sw
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Una Adapted by David Harrower from his play Blackbird, this is a harrowing look at seduction and manipulation. But its gyrations feel somewhat contrived on a film screen, and the characters are oddly simplistic for a story that takes such a bold, complex approach to a difficult situation. It's worth seeing for some of the performances, and also for its ability to get us thinking. But it's never engaging.

It's been a long time since 13-year-old Una (Stokes) ran off with friend of the family Ray (Mendelsohn). Years later, Una (now Mara) tracks down Ray, who is married and working as a factory foreman. She confronts him at work, tormenting him over the course of a busy day about the unresolved feelings they share. This is the first time they have been able to speak since the police case, and both make unexpected discoveries. As the day winds down, Una ingratiates herself to one of his employees (Ahmed).

These are resolutely unlikeable people, and the actors can't do much with them. Mendelssohn at least brings some internal anguish to Ray, who is shocked and shattered to see Una again. By contrast, Rooney is like a glowering child forced to sit here when she'd rather be out playing with her friends. Her stony expression reveals very little about Una's state of mind, and the filmmaking doesn't help. For example, she has anonymous sex in a prolog, but is this because she's damaged or because she's promiscuous? Or is the filmmaker suggesting that both are true?

On stage, these broad ambiguities can be powerful, but cinema requires a lot more subtlety. As directed by Andrews, this is a collection of forced encounters and implausible reactions, shot and edited in a pretentious way that tries to lead the audience's mood. But what lingers is the feeling that the film is rather leery, continually stripping Mara naked to put her through even more sexual/emotional torment.

There's plenty of complexity to the way this unfolds, especially with the suggestion that the legal system might be the real problem here. But since the film is tilted oddly out of balance, it almost misses the point that Ray is ultimately responsible for anything that happened, even if Una initiated everything. And since the characters are so rigid, their emotional reactions don't follow through in ways that are either helpful or honest. In the end we just feel annoyed.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 8.Oct.16 lff

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall