The best aspect of Una is its scrambled chronology. Flashbacks break up what could otherwise be a rather repetitive two-hander, albeit one made up of fine performances from both Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn. While Mara’s extremely plummy English accent can be distracting, Mendelsohn is particularly compelling. He continues to build an impressive career by embodying threatening yet three-dimensional characters (see Starred Up and The Place Beyond the Pines).
The slow drip-feed of storyboard-like images from the past reveals information so slowly that they retain rather than diminish the claustrophobic suspense of Una and Peter’s discussions in the central glass box setting. It’s a shame, then, that when flashbacks do include dialogue and conventional action, many of the young actors fail to convince. However, in their aesthetic implications these scenes excel. The choices made by costume designer Steven Noble aptly convey the 15-year time gap between Una’s dual timelines, while the dreary, identikit suburban estate is terrifyingly commonplace in relation to the subject matter.
The circumstances that put Una and Peter in a room together feel contrived, but the film does strive to be respectful to victims of abuse, partly by making Una the instigator and allowing her (at least initially) to control the situation. However, the final act’s accelerating inclusion of thriller tropes, and the fact that these are directed towards the potential undoing of Peter’s new life, does lessen the sensitivity. Needlessly abrupt editing and an effective yet sometimes overwhelmingly intense score contribute to the thriller dynamic, and suggest Andrews isn’t confident in the story’s generic identity.
Well-meaning but technically flawed and somewhat ideologically problematic, Una is a distressing watch. It’s commendable for paying attention to emotional as well as physical aspects of abuse, but the pursuit of tension leaves behind authentic character-led drama.
CAST: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed
DIRECTOR: Benedict Andrews
WRITER: David Harrower
SYNOPSIS: A young woman unexpectedly arrives at an older man’s workplace. Their confrontation will uncover buried memories and unspeakable desires.