Una review – Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn have twisted chemistry in disturbing drama

A woman tracks down the man who abused her when she was 13, in a disquieting adaptation of David Harrower’s play Blackbird – with a neat, nauseous twist

Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn bring a controlled intensity and force – and even a twisted kind of chemistry – to this disturbing if structurally flawed movie, perhaps inspired by key final sequences from Lolita, and adapted by David Harrower from his own much- admired 2005 play Blackbird.

Mara is Una, a young woman who, when she was 13, was seduced and abused by a middle-aged neighbour, who finally abandoned her in a seaside guesthouse. This was Ray, played by Mendelsohn. Now, as an adult, she has tracked him down to the gigantic Amazon-style factory warehouse where, after his imprisonment, he has risen under a changed name to middle-management level. Does she want revenge? Closure? Or does she even, in some desolate and damaged sense, want to declare her undiminished love?

The action is set in England although, interestingly, cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (who has worked with Yorgos Lanthimos) makes it look like suburban Australia or the US: it is a movie of bright, clean, hard edges. It is opened out from the theatrical space by interspersing the dialogue with flashback scenes of the original affair, with Ruby Stokes as the young Una, but also a slightly cumbersome plot contrivance in the present, linked to Ray’s dispute with his hatchet-faced boss (Tobias Menzies). Later there is to be a party back at Ray’s house – for which surely he would surely not be in the mood, having seen his career and personal life explode?

Ray is very different from Patrick Wilson’s paedophile character in Hard Candy (2005) or Kevin Bacon’s in The Woodsman (2004) or indeed Dylan Baker’s in Todd Solondz’s Happiness (1998). Yet Harrower’s script creates a neat, nauseous twist, which upends the good faith in which we had originally been led to accept Ray’s agony. It’s a movie with a hum of disquiet.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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