Una

2016

Drama

53
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 83%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 88%
IMDb Rating 6.3 10 4486

Synopsis


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Movie Reviews

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

Reviewed by ([email protected]) 8 / 10

Remarkable translation of a play to screen

After this film was screened at the Toronto Film Festival today, an audience member asked director Andrews about the skill of lead actor Mendelsohn in his portrayal of such a deceitful and manipulative character. The host repeated the question without the adjectives but fortunately the question was answered as it was asked. Mr. Andrews noted that many audience members didn't see the "Ray" character in that fashion at all.

Indeed this ambiguity and its affect on Una is at the heart of this film as well as the play Blackbird upon which it is based. I generally am not happy when plays are translated into films but I found this adaptation to be quite the exception. The camera was able to extend the scope of the play to include scenes from the crucial events which occurred 15 years before the main confrontation which occupies most of the film.

A brilliant first film from director Andrews which will hopefully reach the wide audience it deserves.

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