The play, Blackbird by David Harrower, is a two character drama set in a nondescript office that’s a constant, sometimes emotionally draining back-and-forth between the two characters. After watching the play, if someone said they wanted to make it into a film, you’d most likely think they were nuts. Especially after the debacle that was Roman Polanski’s Carnage. That film was based on the hit play, God of Carnage, and had a similar one-location setting with few characters.
Director Benedict Andrews, who directed the play several years back, was up to that challenge and hits a home run. He opens up the world of the play, filling out the backstory and giving the characters fuller, richer lives.
The film, as in the play, is about a young woman named Una (Rooney Mara), who confronts her former neighbor, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), about a sexual relationship they had when she was thirteen. That relationship ruined her life, her parents were never the same and Ray was thrown in jail for what he did. He’s eventually released, changes his name and starts a new life. He’s now got a good job and a family. Una’s tracked him down and now, she wants answers: Why? Why did he start a relationship with a thirteen year old girl?
When she first walks into Ray’s office, determined to confront him, he spots her walking towards him. Mendelsohn gives a devastating look, almost fearful and the camera holds on long enough to tell us his world is about to crumble.
There is no black and white in the film. Did Ray actually love her? Does he still? At times they talk like that of old flames reminiscing the past. It’s strange to watch because, you know, she was thirteen.
Both Mendelsohn and Mara are terrific. She wears Una’s years of sorrow, questions, hatred and anger like a badge of honor. He’s got the angst and torment of a man who’s been found out, desperate to get back to his new life.
Andrews, who is a top theatre director in London’s West End, has made an impressive film debut with this taught, crisp work.