Rooney Mara and Tara Fitzgerald play the titular Una, a young woman, who at age thirteen became involved with her older neighbour Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) until he was caught and convicted of statutory rape. In her thirties, still deeply affected and emotionally scarred by the relationship, she discovers the location of Ray, now living out life as a factory manager named Peter and is intent to confront him.
Director Benedict Andrews and writer David Harrower (who adapted the film from his own play “Blackbird”) create an all round uncomfortable viewing experience with “Una.” Wrestling with the subject of statutory rape and the ambivalent agency of a girl on the edge of womanhood. He allows these characters to confront one another in an endless warehouse that functions literally as a structured safe place (Peter/Ray must show restraint in a place that he’s a manager) for their encounter. An empty lunch room takes the place of a stage; an aquarium for their characters to swell, to pour out the ugly and uncomfortable truths . The warehouse’s rows upon rows of faceless stock boxes become the reservoirs of memories wanting to be unpacked.
Our present day Una (Rooney Mara), is introduced to us in a throbbing club scene. While the world around her bounces and rolls with the beats she’s steady, out of time and coldly appraising the crowd. She wanders through the haze until she finds what she wants. A quick bathroom sexual encounter and a lone walk back to the confines of her home and we’re introduced to a young woman detached. Rooney Mara is such a game performer to connect with this disconnected character. It’s a performance that’s as raw as an open wound emotionally and yet she uses her body with the abandon of a mortician. Tara Fitzgerald demonstrates a great aptitude for restraint in a young performer, forcing you to stare into her face and project the uncomfortable questions about how aware this girl was of her actions.
Ben Mendelsohn is a performer that we’ve seen take an interest in young girls and take no remorse; Pope in “Animal Kingdom.” Ray/Peter is a deluded man, taking in a new life. For a large majority of the film Mendelsohn manages a thought-to-be unmanageable task of making us feel pity for a man who felt in ‘love’ with a thirteen year old girl and now feels the remorse.
Benedict Andrews takes cue from Tarantino’s cinematic manipulation, merely showing you the thick wall of leaves on a tree or the crumpled up clothes of a teenager to infer those distasteful and disgusting relations, but the characters slow descriptions will eventually convince you (even though you know logically that it’s not the case) that you have seen it happening on the screen.
Writer David Harrower has an additional layer to the unfolding drama with Peter/Ray being required to deliver news about a merger with another company that forms a strange distraction to what’s unfolding. It could be a calculated tension release mechanism or an attempt to add pressure to his former life exploding into his new professional life; neither particularly work. The frustration is that the factory becomes this strange maze that hides their increasingly intimate exchanges, getting deeper into the details that saw their affair emerge and the feelings of the characters. While the interactions grow in power and resonance (and quiet frankly hair raising sickening feelings), the farce of the factory begins to distract.
“Una” is a movie about grotesque subject matter dealt with in a conscious
and controlled way. It’s not one you’ll be quick to revisit, but it’s not likely to be easily forgotten.
Dir. Benedict Andrews
Writer: David Harrower
Starring: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Tara Fitzgerald
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.