Turning a play right into a film is usually tough enterprise; there’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t danger to the endeavor. Based mostly on Blackbird, by Scottish playwright David Harrower, Una by some means avoids neither of the seemingly antithetical, even mutually unique pitfalls of shifting a narrative from stage to display. A tense two-hander in regards to the reunion between a twentysomething lady and the middle-aged man who sexually abused her when she was 13, the play was first staged in 2005 and revived on Broadway final yr, with Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels. Harrower himself wrote the screenplay for Una, which recasts Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn within the lead roles, however he’s stranded his acclaimed work in an odd adaptation lifeless zone: Its strongest and most trustworthy scenes are tête-à-têtes that also really feel tailor-made for theatrical efficiency, whereas the token concessions to cinematic storytelling—the makes an attempt to “open up” the fabric with extra characters and places—really feel superfluous. Maybe the latter solely serve to underline the “filmed play” high quality of the previous.
Harrower drew inspiration from the real-life case of a U.S. marine who kidnapped and absconded with an underage British woman he had groomed on the web. The premise stays potent. Utilizing a photograph she’s stumbled upon in a commerce journal, Una (Mara) tracks down the neighbor who seduced her as a teen. Ray (Mendelsohn), who served 4 years in jail for statutory rape, now goes by Peter; he’s began a brand new life beneath a brand new title, and has married a girl who could or could not learn about his felony previous. “What would you like?” he asks when she exhibits up unannounced to the manufacturing unit the place he works. It’s the open query that drives Una: whether or not she’s come to rekindle or confront, to explode his life or acquire some type of closure.
On stage, the entire story unfolded behind 4 partitions: the drably dressed breakroom the place Ray takes Una, the 2 rehashing every thing that transpired between them a lifetime in the past. Una preserves that central setting, but it surely additionally nervously, detrimentally abandons it at each alternative, breaking apart the long-form dialog with flashbacks to the pair’s unlawful encounters (some staged by means of the more and more cliché drop-the-soundtrack-out subliminal blips), relocations all through the constructing (and, ultimately, outdoors of it), and a subplot involving layoffs at Ray’s job and a co-worker (Riz Ahmed) who will get wedged between the 2. Aussie theater director Benedict Andrews, making his filmmaking debut after a profession of elaborate Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams variations, exhibits some grace behind the digicam—the opening passage, earlier than the movie has revealed the character of Una’s street journey, has a imprecise, mysterious unease to it, enhanced by Mara’s signature aloofness. However the movie’s most stylistic gestures all really feel like clear makes an attempt to disguise the blatant, inherent theatricality.
It’s a shedding battle, and one Una perhaps didn’t must struggle. The movie is at its most affecting when merely letting its two stars circle one another in isolation, whilst Mara—rocking a shaky accent—generally performs Una’s loosening emotional grip at a histrionic fever pitch. For the one-on-one scenes, Andrews retains the capturing and chopping simple, even capturing one toilet monologue in a easy closeup. It’s an method that roughly approximates simply watching actors on a stage, and if that leads to moments it’s onerous to disclaim would in all probability hit tougher in a reside context, it additionally retains the concentrate on the shifting character dynamics—together with the unconventional, troubling suggestion that Ray acted not out of predatory compulsion however some real (if nonetheless exploitative) love for a lady too younger to consent. Possibly this story simply belongs within the theatre, not the theater. However Una demonstrates that in terms of the staginess of stage variations, the remedy may be worse than the illness.