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By Eric Hillis,


I’m beginning to think Rooney Mara has cloned herself. This year alone we’ve already seen her in Lion, The Secret Scripture, The Discovery, Song to Song and A Ghost Story, and her brief career has seen her work on four continents. Maybe her workaholic nature explains her somnambulistic acting style - she’s simply worn out. I can’t figure out if Mara is actually a good actor or not, but she’s certainly cornered the market in playing ‘damaged young women’, as is once again the case in Una, director Benedict Andrews’ adaptation of David Harrower’s controversial play Blackbird.

Mara plays the eponymous Una, a 28 year old who at the tender age of 13, entered into a sexual relationship with an adult neighbor, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), the latter subsequently serving four years behind bars when his actions were discovered. Fifteen years later, Una tracks down Ray, now going under the name ‘Peter’, and confronts him at his current workplace.

Initially, Ray assumes Una has come looking for revenge, pulling her handbag out of her hands in fear it contains a pistol or some other weapon. It soon becomes apparent however that Una’s anger at Ray stems not from his physical abuse, but at the fact that he walked away from her. As outrageous as it may seem, Ray is still the love of Una’s life, and she hopes to pick up where they left off.


I can’t speak for Harrower’s play, but the film he has fashioned as a scriptwriter suggests he has scant interest in anything other than exploiting a shocking subject. Una offers little in the way of insight into either a pedophile or his victim, and the strained and theatrical dialogue dilutes the sense of realism necessary for a narrative of this nature. There are more than a few character actions that strain credulity. An impromptu sex scene between the adult Una and Ray in the locker room of the latter’s workplace is unintentionally laughable, a point at which the film can never recover. More baffling is a decision on the part of Ray that sets him up for exposure by placing Una in the care of co-worker Scott (a wasted Riz Ahmed).

Struggling with an unconvincing British accent, Mara delivers what might be the weakest performance of her short but prolific career. It doesn’t help that her character is one-note and under developed, another in cinema’s long line of ‘crazy’ women. More convincing is Ruby Stokes, who plays the 13-year-old Una in flashbacks that prompt uncomfortable questions regarding how much of the film’s themes the child actress was exposed to. Mendelsohn is once again typecast as a creep, but his character is far more multi-dimensional than Mara’s, which suggests the film may have benefitted from a female co-writer.

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The best screen adaptations of stage plays are often those that readily accept that they’re adaptations of stage plays and settle on making the most of a limited cast in a limited location (Sidney Lumet’s similarly themed The Offence a prime example). In a vain attempt to add cinematic value, Andrews’ film adds a pointless and distracting subplot concerning Ray burning bridges with his employers, an action that leads to himself and Una scurrying around his labyrinthine workplace to evade capture. The final act, in which Una arrives unannounced at a party thrown at the house Ray shares with his wife and his young stepdaughter is initially fraught with tension, but Andrews and Harrower fail to exploit its potential, and we’re left wondering how much more gripping the movie may have been had it adopted that setting for its entirety.

2 1/2 Stars

Directed by: Benedict Andrews

Starring: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Tara Fitzgerald, Ruby Stokes

originally published: 2017-09-25 09:23:21

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Event calendar
Monday, Jun 18, 2018


BRUCE HORNSBY & THE NOISEMAKERS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:30pm

HARRY CONNICK, JR. @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


AUDITIONS: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 7:30pm


MIKE FINOIA, KEVIN FLYNN, KYLE GROOMS @ The Music Box @ Borgata Casino Hotel, Atlantic City - 9:00pm


ACTION POINT @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 7:00pm

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