DVD Movie Review: UNA

By Thom Compton 29.12.2017

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Una (UK Rating: 15)

Due for release on DVD and Blu-ray on 8th January via Thunderbird Releasing, UNA tells the story of young Una (Rooney Mara - Carol, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), a woman whose life has, to put it lightly, been put on hold. Ever since being abused at the age of thirteen by her father's friend, Ray (Emmy-nominated Ben Mendelsohn - Animal Kingdom, Starred Up, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Una hasn't been able to move on with her life. Who could blame her? Ray is much older, obviously, and he took advantage of her innocence, her childlike whimsy, and the angst many young teens have.

The thing that separates UNA from similar films is the way that she seems to have two very opposing feelings about the experience. On the one hand, as a young woman, she seeks out Ray (now going by Peter) to force him to answer for what he did. On the other hand, what he did was leave. Una clearly developed feelings for Ray, and she seems to still harbour some of those feelings underneath all of the anger.

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To their credit, Mara and Mendelsohn play their roles with impeccable precision. Mara, in particular, excels at turning on a dime from cold and calculating stalker to innocent and otherwise stable, lonely young woman. The way she is able to cut into Ray, like the gnashing of teeth upon flesh, is fantastic. One of UNA's strong points is it's not about revenge. She is not seeking to torture him, or mutilate him, or destroy his life. Her goal is retribution for herself, and her conflicting emotions are not only realistic, but completely understandable.

Mendelsohn does just as good of a job portraying guilt, but refusing to let Una's sudden reappearance in his life tarnish what he has built for himself. Both actors provide some fantastic performances, which is good because most of the film surrounds them discussing what happened, and the effect it still has on them. Besides them, there are some background characters, like Scott and Mark. Scott spends most of the film screaming "Peter! Pete!" which is sad, since actor Riz Ahmed clearly has a better range than that. Fortunately, he gets to showcase it later in the film.

Mark is, for lack of a better word, pointless. The actor, Tobias Menzes, does a fine job portraying him, for all ten lines he gets. It's just that Mark's presence is that of Ray's boss, a man trying to groom him to be a bigger part of the company they work in. The problem is that most of Mark's time on screen is relegated to a distraction breaking up Una and Ray's conversations. Ray hides from him in such a way that you would think Mark was the principal and Ray was skipping gym...again.

Most of the remainder of the cast fail to really leave a mark. Una's mother is just a reminder that Una's life was tough after her experience with Ray, and Ray's new wife is kind of stuck up and unapproachable.  This makes a lot of the additional cast feel pointless. They rarely add much to any of the scenes, and it will likely have you pining for the conversations between Una and Ray in a broom closet.

This is all quite baffling, considering how uncomfortable those conversations can get. Writer David Harrower (who adapted the film from his play, Blackbird) isn't afraid to use language that will skip making the viewer blush, and go straight into queasy. He does a splendid job making the conversations feel real, and even finding ways to ride the line between despicable and the kind of things you might hear a couple say to one another privately. Still, there are moments that fail to cross that gap, and as one remembers these conversations - despite being between two adults - are about a child and adult, it should be expected that the audience will be uncomfortable and feel disgusted. It's not that you can sympathise with Ray, or the Stockholm Syndrome that is clearly at play here, it's that the film so often builds conversations that seem to make you forget the context, and this is both impressive and remarkably unsettling.

All of these moments don't end up saving the film, though, which dissolves in its last half hour into a series of incomprehensible events. Una goes from victim to predator, or at least it feels that way. For a movie so willing to play with moral ambiguity, it's often too willing to play that card. Romantic scenes between the predator and the prey eventually feel pointless, and Una becomes clearly unhinged. It fails to balance that untangling of mental stability and Una rides the line between monster and victim with all the wobbly prowess of a blind man on a unicycle.

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So much of what makes UNA great is actually Una and Ray, and yet it fails to stick the landing. It takes a massive tonal leap, as though, on some level, it wants you to pity Ray. Perhaps it does, similar to The Woodsman, but it never realises that ambition. Instead, it leaves him floundering at the end, walking away from Una, neither of them any closer to closure. Perhaps, in life, you don't get closure. Still, UNA ends with no shoe lace tied, no fray knot tightened. Instead, it expects the viewer to still feel for these two characters, despite one of them coming off as manipulative, while the other is, when it's all over, still a paedophile. For all of this, UNA takes an excellent opening hour, and leaves the last 30 minutes, and the film's conclusion, flopping like a fish on land.

Rated 5 out of 10


For a film that does such a good job making the viewer question every feeling they have, UNA manages to fall completely flat by the time it's over. It doesn't completely undo all the good work it's done, but it makes you wonder why any of it mattered. Una ends up feeling like she's dangerous to the film's most innocent characters, while Ray struggles to maintain his existence despite being a sexual predator. This could have been a morality play that asks the hardest of questions but, instead, it's a tough film that, by the time it's over, doesn't even really seem to know what it wanted to say.

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