Writer: David Harrower (also play, Blackbird)
Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Ruby Stokes, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha Little
Running time: 94mins
What’s the story: Haunted-eyed 28-year-old woman Una (Mara) appears at the work place of old acquaintance Ray (Mendelsohn) to confront him about a shocking past event.
What’s the verdict: Adapted by David Harrower from his Tony award winning play Blackbird and helmed by Australian theatre director Benedict Peters, Una recalls the confrontational work of Alan Clarke.
In middle England, 15 years before Una re-appears in the life of Australian ex-pat Ray, the two of them had a sexual relationship that saw Ray imprisoned and Una traumatised. After discovering him working as a foreman in a warehouse, Una travels to challenge Ray about their past.
A complex depiction of the after effects of sexual assault, the film’s refusal to abide by accepted lines of debate is likely to draw controversy.
Opting against painting characters wholly black or white, motivations and events are uncomfortable and disturbing, the film’s delicate balancing act never wobbling and accidentally endorsing Ray’s behaviour.
But, in a fiercely adult work, audiences are presented with characters who act against type, chiefly Una, who is damaged but rejects the victim label.
Crucial to the success of the film are the two leads and both actors deliver brave, nuanced performances. Mendelsohn humanises his monstrous predator without ever making him sympathetic, but Mara is the revelation.
An actress of known talent, here she is magnificent (complete with convincing English accent). Possessing an uncanny ability to simultaneously express a multitude of conflicting emotions, Mara conveys a decade and a half of pain, regret and confusion. Sometimes this is spat out as vicious invective, other times Una withdraws behind piercing, darkly made-up eyes.
Mention also to Ruby Stokes’, excellent as the younger Una in flashback scenes, and possessing the same drive and wounded hurt as her adult counterpart.
Set largely in Ray’s vast workplace, lengthy dialogue scenes play out with the intensity of the best courtroom drama. First time film director Andrews employs stark widescreen framing to either dwarf characters or bring them into uncomfortable close-up, while flashbacks are shot loosely hand-held and present day scenes are fixed with a rigid, unflinching gaze.
Riz Ahmed, Tara Fitzgerald and Natasha Little fill out key supporting roles, and it will be interesting to see what awards attention is given to such a difficult film.
A film not for everyone, and guaranteed to inspire praise and consternation, but recommended for those who like their cinema uncompromising.
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