Benedict AndrewsUnited Kingdom94 minutes2016ColourEnglish
Rooney Mara (Carol) and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Netflix’s Bloodline) star in this adaptation of David Harrower’s play Blackbird, about a young woman who arrives in the workplace of an older man from her past, seeking answers for the long-ago events that have fatefully shaped both of their lives.
A psychological thriller with elements of a revenge plot, this intense character-driven film is rooted in its performances. Rooney Mara (also at the Festival in Lion and The Secret Scripture) is the titular Una, and Ben Mendelsohn is Ray, the neighbour who sexually assaulted her when she was 13. A decade later, Una tracks Ray down in search of answers — but she doesn't find the ones she's searching for. Uncomfortable with the path she's set out on, but unable to change course, Una must face the fact that Ray is now, in many ways, a different person from the man who abused her. But he still refuses to accept responsibility, and her anger has not abated.
In a review of Blackbird, the David Harrower play on which Una is based, theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote, "Such stories have, of course, long provided sensationalist fodder for television series like Law & Order: SVU." But where Una diverges from television procedurals and tabloid tales is in its willingness to delve into both parties' psyches. Mara and Mendelsohn do yeoman's work in this respect, allowing us to understand the manifold impulses at work behind their characters' actions.
Harrower adapted the script from his own play, and veteran stage director Benedict Andrews translates it to the screen with cinematic grace. Shifting back and forth between Una and Ray's present and past, the film shows how events that occurred years ago destroyed both their lives, albeit in different ways. Una doesn't demand that the viewer take sides; it dives headlong into the murky moral waters of lust, abuse, and guilt.