The story about being unable to set the past free is totally destructive. About female logic that sometimes may be senseless but merciless, and male short sight that is dangerous. About the coincidence of these two factors as weapons of mass destruction that level souls to the ground and burn off a meaning of any, even a most broken, life.
The words that the audience read in plot summary might have reminded them of the scratched story of Lolita, and this is the first but inevitable association if talking about love between an adult man and an under-age miss. However ‘Blackbird’, the play by David Harrower, would never be that acclaimed and moreover screened if it was a faded fake or even a fine copy. It is a fairly outstanding piece of art, not diluted with allusions or borrowings, and the ‘adult film category’ is appropriate not only for the uneasy moral and legal collision, but mainly for the dialogues – sharp and smooth like blades, extremely lifelike, dotting no “i”`s and crossing no “t”`s, merciless to self and to the partner. They lie in the basement of the movie, since the core of every good psychological thriller is not the action itself but something that keeps the audience on the edges of their seats: unspoken words, expectant tension, misunderstanding. People fear uncertainty the most, and in here this effect can be experienced with chilling breath of realism. Even mosaic pieces of soft and estranged soundtrack pour oil on flames of events that have burst out due to negligence of main characters.
Ray got Una, his friend`s young daughter, in sight. She took a liking to Ray too. She was thirteen, he was thirty something, they had been making time for a couple of months and finally ran away from a small town to another whistle-stop. Then, surely, scandal, court, tears, game over. It is that simple, but the film skips this humble beginning and relates the torture of one single day, just twenty four hours fifteen years later, when Una driven by unknown reasons and unbearable stubbornness finds Ray and adds her own sentence to due penalty.
What can a person use to expostulate another person or wipe boots on him/her? Words? Maybe. Their dialogues consist many biting words, and that is clear: she does not know what she has come for but wants it right now, and he is not going to dig into the past which he has seemingly escaped from. What else? The truth? Yes, it is much more painful. Una can not sign her feeling`s release and picks up every minute of their relationship, but what a tricky thing – being sensual her memories still sound rude, while Ray recalls everything in a detailed, tender and, to say more, romantic way, so unusual for a man. This is the first turning point when the audience start to tangle in a row of questions like “Who started it first?”, “Who is to blame?” and “What to do next?”.
Director Benedict Andrews managed to rig the film with a wide net of traps – while these phantom memories flash on the both side of the fence, you may change your mind about the characters for a few times, and figure out new questions, like in a ‘truth or false’ game. One of these two lies or at least exaggerates, but who? The storage where they have stuck in like in a sandglass looks like a labyrinth of unburied flashbacks and seems to have no exit. Decorations do shape this realistic atmosphere of the film – this endless storage with its rancid minimalism, or simple and muted landscapes of British coastline with their misty horizon promising nothing good, or clothes of all the characters – faint, understated but featuring the age, young Ruby Stokes who displayed teenage Una falls down in 1990ies in these shaggy sweatshirts, kicks and denim jackets.
So what other weapons do ex-lovers use in their cold war, except words and truth? Common sense. Una`s only rational ground is to explain how her life got ruined. Will her game be up by Ray`s words about something that she never heard of? And some new questions arise. I prefer a no spoilers strategy, so I`d better stop and focus on leading actors.
Rooney Mara surprises with her natural look and the unique skill of reflecting the minor fluctuation of any emotion. Her mentally wounded, absent glance has not ever turned warm making you consider who was more obsessed – Ray with his passion or Una with her revenge. Rooney Mara has perfectly displayed a frightened stubbornness, a determined irrationality, a foolishness of her cynical mind, and a fear of senseless of what she is doing.
Ben Mendelsohn polishes the diamond edges of his talent again and again. This gentleman can be everyone, that is why he is critically acclaimed, respected by film directors and the audience. And what is more he can reply by a slight glance, only with his eyes, to any phrase or question, and do it in such an easy and charming manner that you can`t help but pray for a camera-man not to miss this gaze. His character while being a deviant (and criminal justice serves him right) is a faded, shy and hesitative person who prefers to hide his head in the sand. Brilliant and breathtaking actor, and another unusual role.
So, what ideas came up to my mind that late Moscow night near the cinema? First, in all types of relationship there are two people to blame. Then, one should not dish the dirt or throw skeletons from the cupboard. And finally, it is better to fight your own demons first, then attend to others`.