Tackling the trickiest of transpositions, that of adapting a dialogue-driven one-act play to the big screen, Benedict Andrews’s Una takes on David Harrower’s Blackbird—and it mostly succeeds, thanks to fine acting and a smart reconstruction of its source’s setting. Rather than taking place in a small, closed-off room, Andrews moves the dark reunion at the core of this story—that of a victim (Rooney Mara) confronting her sexual abuser (Ben Mendelsohn)—to a large warehouse. This new venue allows for external influences to permeate the dialogue, with walk-and-talks through labyrinthine hallways and constant interruptions ramping up the already palpable tension.
And while Andrews does his directorial duty in eschewing the typical pratfalls of stage-cum-film adaptions, this is Mara and Mendelsohn’s show. Both excel in crafting characters who not only remain ambiguous to the audience but who increasingly seem to not know themselves all that well. Mara’s Una vacillates between embittered, retribution-driven autonomy and decades-old fragility; no real clarity is given as to which is her primary motivator. Mendelsohn’s character will be viewed with more natural prejudice, despite a performance that complicates his usual smarminess with the tendrils of remorse, its unsettling effectiveness rooted in our inability to decipher whether he’s being disingenuous with Una, with himself, or not at all; so nuanced is the performance that it distracts from the obvious fact that his monstrousness is immutable fact. Bleak and vicious throughout, Una surprises by necessarily reserving judgment of its characters, and the film’s pummeling effect is tough to shake.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 2.