Una

2016

Drama / Romance

57
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 83%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 88%
IMDb Rating 6.3 10 5482

Synopsis


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by CineMuseFilms 7 / 10

a tense essay on moral boundaries

Conventional genre movies work their magic almost entirely through manipulating stereotypes. But many powerful movies work in reverse: they deconstruct stereotypes to challenge our boundary perceptions. Themes like feminism, racism and nationalism, are regularly pulled apart to see what makes them tick. In recent years, child sexual abuse has been in the spotlight and it is overwhelmingly treated as a moral absolute. However, the film Una (2016) challenges the norm by exploring ambivalences in a case of blatant abuse. In doing so, it places the audience squarely on the judge's bench. Adapted from the acclaimed 2005 stage play Blackbird, this tense drama-thriller explores the moral ambiguities of a criminal act that occurred 15 years ago between 40-year old Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) and 13-year old Una (Mara Rooney). The emotionally immature Ray was obsessed with the lonely and precocious Una over a three-month relationship before having 'consensual' sex with her. By chance, the incident was discovered and he spent four years in jail. Since then he changed his name and has tried to restore his life. Meanwhile Una's world spiralled into an emotional void. Now 28, she has tracked him down and unexpectedly confronts him at the factory where he works. Instead of attacking him for the abuse, she demands to know why he abandoned her after their one night together. They continue talking beyond the factory's closing time, then she tricks another employee to take her to Ray's home where his girlfriend is hosting a party. At this point, the intensity of the factory scenes becomes diluted and the sparring inconclusive. This is an explosive mix of issues, personality and circumstance. The film consists mostly of their verbal sparring about the illegal 'affair' with dialogue ranging from hysterical, passionate to icy cool within an industrial setting that is claustrophobic and alienating. It is beyond Ray's emotional capacity to understand what Una wants, while she vacillates between wanting to restore her juvenile obsession with him and wanting to see him wallow in guilt for his crime. Every time we feel contempt for him, we see a piece of the emotional puzzle indicating human weakness but not evil. Every time we admire Una's determination to hold Ray to account, we see a glimpse of her complicity and manipulation. Mara Rooney and Ben Mendelsohn fill their characters with confusion and remorse. At the same time, they depict genuine emotional connection with each other despite the legal, emotional and moral prohibitions that still frame their lives. Their performances are brilliant. At one level, this film is about the horrendous impact on victims and the abrogation of responsibility that occurs in cases of child sexual abuse. At another, it pulls apart the stereotype of victim and abuser to shed light on how it can happen and its painful aftermath. Some audiences may be repulsed at the level of sympathy shown to the perpetrator and the implicit sharing of responsibility between a juvenile and an adult for what is entirely an adult crime. Others may be shaken by the idea that such crimes may have any moral ambiguity at all. In any case, this is brave and provocative cinema that cuts across the guilt versus innocence binary.

Reviewed by Corey James 6 / 10

A muddled child abuse drama

This review of Una is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

IT'S ONLY A short time into Benedict Andrews' flawed but powerful paean about the complications of life after child abuse. When we have Rooney Mara's tile character Una, walking into her former neighbour's workplace to confront him about their past, specifically to ask him questions about his leaving after a sexual encounter the two had when she was 13-years-old. Written by David Harrower from his own complex play Blackbird. First time director Andrews depicts a series of heart wrenching events from a beautifully sun drenched barbecue party, with a young Una meeting her neighbour, Rey (Ben Mendelsohn) for the first time (fantastic work by newcomer Ruby Stokes), to him sitting in a court room awaiting a hearing in a couple of the many shining flashbacks. He shoots these brilliant moments with gripping almost real results. Led by Mara's brave naked performance and Mendelsohn's unflinching persona Una is a riveting drama which succeeds in almost all aspects.

It's not always an easy watch as Rey seduces this young girl, there's no graphic imagery on show but the words between Una and Rey physically describing what he did to her is enough to make you shudder. Physically she's damaged; she's been in constant pain for most of her life. Emotionally she's changed which her concerning mother (Fitzgerald) sees and tries to make amends by talking to her.

There are moments when her intent to be a hesitant woman bringing the good-cop-bad-cop routine card into the game, sometimes making her a brutal force sucking in all the sympathy. Rey, however, is the opposite, he is a broken man he feels sorry for leaving her in that situation. Throughout their conversation he begs for forgiveness hoping for one last drop of sympathy. Mendelsohn is so brilliantly nuanced here that he somehow manages to at least evoke a semblance of pity from the audience. While this works for a while thanks to Andrews' powerful direction managing to hold nothing back from his understanding of the characters to the general impact of drama.

It's not always on top of its game as there are buried problems - one is the pacing, some of the story fails to translate itself from Harrower's intelligent playwriting as some of it feels overly slow. And some of the flashbacks intertwine a few of the more important confrontation scenes. This unfortunately tends to be the bigger problem as it often can become difficult to follow a certain point of the story. Despite this Una is a riveting provocative drama with outstanding tour de force performances from both parties. Though uncomfortable in its material, it's a unique way of filmmaking which almost manages to be real - even after the credits have rolled it stays with you forever.

VERDICT: Worth the watch for the magnetic lead performances. But some of it feels that the play isn't correctly translated on the screen.

Reviewed by TheLittleSongbird 8 / 10

Powerful? Yes. Fearless? Yes. An easy watch? No

Tackling a difficult and sensitive subject on film is very brave, and also important in showing how awful sexual abuse is and the damaging effects it leaves on the victims. While a difficult subject, generally, due to the amount of ignorance and generalisations it garners (with victim blaming for example), it needs to be addressed more.

Like my fairly recent (a couple of months ago) viewing of 'The Girl in the Book', 'Una' is a tough watch but overall very rewarding, being beautifully done and emotionally powerful. Based on David Harrower's play 'Blackbird', although not a victim of sexual abuse, 'Una' really resonated with me and shows no signs of being afraid to show the full effects and not trivialise it. It also captures the claustrophobia of the play so that there is plenty of tension, but does it in a way that opens things out and not make it feel stage-bound (a danger with films/television translated from plays).

'Una' is not flawless. It does drag somewhat in the middle act and the shifts from past to present day to start with are not always clear. Otherwise, there is very little wrong with it and it does a huge amount right.

It's a good-looking film, being very nicely and atmospherically shot and lit. The music is never intrusive or too low-key, it doesn't overbear the drama while still having presence and in no way does it feel inappropriate.

Benedict Andrews directs with a suspenseful touch, passion for the subject and potent realism, he doesn't allow the film to hold back nor does he allow it to go overboard with the unsubtle. 'Una' is not always subtle but that is not an issue, the subject itself isn't subtle either. The script is taut and poignant, with the confrontation between the present day Una and Ray having so much harrowing truth.

What really makes 'Una' particularly good are the storytelling and performances. The story may drag in the middle at times, but the final act is electrifying and logical, not trivialising the effects of the abuse like the final act of 'The Girl in the Book' did and rings true far more. The confrontation is particularly harrowing while the main characters' thoughts, darkest desires and motivations are just as frightening, complex and difficult to fathom. On the most part, the past (through flashbacks) and present day time-lines are structured clearly and beautifully intertwined.

Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelssohn's performances are positively on blistering fire, particularly Mara, while that of Ruby Stokes is also hard to forget in the best of ways.

In conclusion, not quite one of my favourites of the year or ever, but powerful and brave film and that it was not an easy watch, considering the subject it's portraying, worked in its favour rather than against it. 8/10 Bethany Cox

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