Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
The truth is often what we make of it. It’s not always reliable, and that’s one of the basic ideas behind UNA. The titular character is played by Rooney Mara, her thirteen-year-old self played by Ruby Stokes in a series of haunting flashbacks. She’s a troubled young woman, trying to live with a traumatic past yet to be revealed to the audience. Una is on a mission. Taking the day off work, she drives off on the highway, arriving at a factory full of loud, mostly male employees, including a man named Scott (Riz Ahmed). Una is after someone; Scott’s boss Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). She’s taken to him, leaving him lost for words in a tense first exchange. The two have a history, and an unpleasant one at that. Una is the last person Ray expected to see today, or ever again.
The story is layered beyond belief, slowly unravelling new dimensions and twists in these character’s troubled pasts. It’s a dissection of who they are, full of lengthy exposition made engaging through the mesmerising, terrifying performances from the two leads. UNA tackles the lives of a paedophile and sexual abuse victim in a unique, shattering light. It’s often uncomfortable, but never crosses the line. Nothing controversial is shown. It’s about the dialogue and dynamic between the two leads, and the confrontation of their personalities. They’ve both been broken in different ways, traumatised by love and sex and a history neither of them can escape. It’s a two-sided story that doesn’t empathise with paedophilia, but instead divulges into the mindset of the abuser and the victim.
Mendelsohn and Mara are tremendous as the leads. They’re both flawed, unstable people with plenty brewing beneath the surface, and it demands a lot from the actors. Both of them have to pull from a really dark state of mind to give an authentic performance, and they do. Their dialogue is always lengthy and full of sorrow, guided with fierce intensity and a sense of remorse. As much as they’d hate to admit, both of the characters understand each other. It’s never mentioned, but their expressions tell it all. Every line is delivered with a series of undertones and a past unspoken. Even with some of the clunky dialogue, particularly during their first conversation in an office lunchroom, the two make it work. There’s some really heavy-handed dialogue the two are forced to deliver, and their relation makes for the most interesting aspect of the movie. It’s two powerhouse performers giving it their all and engaging the audience in a way only masters of the craft can do.
The screenplay is adapted for stage by its original playwright, David Harrower. I haven’t seen the play, but it translates to the big screen with mixed results. The overall plot works. The arc, the characters and the ultimate conclusion bring the story full circle in an unforgettable way, but it’s in need of some serious tightening. UNA clocks in at a mere 94 minutes, and it’s not that the film overstays its welcome, but more so tends to go off on a tangent, especially in the third act. Acts one and two, with the exception of some very “un-human” dialogue, flow well. It’s the third act where the plot takes a new direction, splitting the two lead stories up temporarily before bringing them back together for a finale that’s part laughable/part fascinating character study. New revelations are uncovered, big questions are raised, and the audience is left in a mixed state of mind. Certain plot elements gained nervous chuckles, while others got full on belly laughs due to the stupidity or ignorance of its lead characters.
UNA is a dark, layered, confronting movie that explores a different side of its subject matter. It requires a lot from its enormously talented cast, requiring some really heavy hitting performances in order to work, and it gets them. Mendelsohn, Mara and Stokes are all tremendous, haunting and full of broken life. First time director Benedict Andrew captures their distinct characteristics with style and intensity, but the film is frustrating. It builds up something important and rarely talked about, only to tear it all apart in the hit-and-miss finale. UNA is so close to being fantastic. It only just falls short. But if it weren’t for its lead actors, who really carry the movie, it would’ve failed altogether.
You May Also Like: