Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Abner Pastoll
Writer: Ronan Blaney
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson, Jane Brenan
By Harris Dang
Over the years, genre cinema has had a lot of examples of crime dramas from the female perspective. We have had stellar examples further in the past like Kathryn Bigelow’s sharp “Blue Steel” (1990) and F. Gary Gray’s “Set It Off” (1996) and just recently, we had Lorene Scarafia’s vibrant “Hustlers” (2019) and Andrea Berloff’s problematic “The Kitchen” (2019). On the more ambitious side, we have had crime films that meld with other genres like Park Chan-wook’s artistic “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” (2005), Carol Morley’s “Out of Blue” (2018) and Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” (2012).
In the case of Abner Pastoll’s “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” (2019), we have that perspective alongside other promising notions that make the film look great on paper. Firstly, it is a British film; and British cinema is well-known for their intensity within crime stories like James Watkins’ “Eden Lake” (2008) and Daniel Barber’s “Harry Brown” (2009). Secondly, the theme of motherhood in “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” promises a level of refreshing verisimilitude in the social drama of the story ala Jason Reitman’s “Tully” (2018). Lastly, it is a revenge story that invokes grindhouse conventions and Michael Winner’s “Death Wish” (1974). Will the film keep its promise in delivering the vengeance and brutality the genre through a different viewpoint?
Set in present-day Northern Ireland, Sarah Bolger star as Sarah — who else? — a recently widowed single mother who is struggling to take care of her young children, Lucy (Macie McCauley) and Ben (Rudy Doherty) in a rough neighbourhood infested with drugs. She loves them dearly and does whatever she can for their happiness, but things have not been looking quite sunny. Ben is rendered mute since he was a witness to his father’s fatal stabbing just outside their home and Sarah’s efforts to help the police prove worthless as she is told to “let sleeping dogs lie”.
“One of the things that makes the film work is the world-building; the establishment of stakes and complications for Sarah to face. Director Pastoll and screenwriter Ronan Blaney go for a slow-burn pace to create an uncompromising world”
Things get even worse when a young drug dealer, Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into Sarah’s house — after robbing Leo Miller (Edward Hogg), the neighborhood kingpin who has a fondness for poetry and grammar — and insists on hiding his stash in Sarah’s home. While understandably terrified for herself and her children, Tito brings forth a proposal: he will give Sarah a cut of the profits he gets from dealing in exchange for using her home as a safe house, which she reluctantly accepts when she discovers that Tito can be an asset to finding out more about her husband’s death. But as the analogy goes — it does not rain, it pours — Leo is on the trail for Tito, which will push Sarah to her breaking point to do anything to protect her family.
It would be a high pedestal for “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” to rise up to with all the genres — a plausible domestic drama, a pulpy crime thriller, a gorefest and a satisfying revenge flick — but the film manages to pull it off thrillingly; as it is held together by a dynamo of a lead performance.
One of the things that makes the film work is the world-building; the establishment of stakes and complications for Sarah to face. Director Pastoll and screenwriter Ronan Blaney go for a slow-burn pace to create an uncompromising world that Sarah has to trudge through and it is frightening to see that all of those hardships are known exclusively to women.
The police belittle her due to her love for her husband (who may or may not be a drug dealer); her mother (Jane Brenan) berates her for marrying her husband in the first place; even the grocer objectifies her as a prostitute just because she has money. It is these complications that provide the solid backbone of the characterization of Sarah and it works splendidly as the story reaches the second act when Sarah makes decisions that she cannot go back on.
And the violence does not let up. With scenes of torture, attempts of rape and even body dismemberment, it sounds like an exploitative grindhouse picture. But again, the world-building and seeds of human drama (that inform the characters) makes a huge difference, which adds a level of plausibility (if not realism). That is not to say that the film does not veer into genre conventions. The main antagonist, Leo Miller, is a cartoon in comparison to the rest of the film and Hogg plays him with gusto, conveying both nuance and pantomime glee. Speaking of cartoons, there are certain props in the film that are used in a satisfying way that can only be seen as macabre. Special credit must go to the make-up effects for showing the brunt of the violence perfectly.
“A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” is a punchy, uncompromising crime thriller that delivers exactly what it promises and is a fantastic showcase for the talents of both director Abner Pastoll and lead actress Sarah Bolger.”
Another reason why the film succeeds is how it conveys the theme of motherhood. Too often in Hollywood films, parenting (particularly with motherhood) is often sanitized and glossed over to the point that balancing both worlds of work and social life can be a total breeze. But there is a saying; and it goes “if you are a mother, you are a superhero.” And if that is true, the character of Sarah would be seen as the female version of The Punisher. Alongside the world-building, Sarah is brought down to earth by being financially strapped and her children’s increasing demands, adding credence to her diminishing psychological state.
But none of this would work if it were not for Bolger. Unafraid to explore her character through her degrading psychosis without a hint of narcissism or fear; and delivering a nuanced portrayal of a woman of utmost resilience and perseverance, Bolger manages to portray the character arc of Sarah so smoothly and convincingly, she makes it easy for the audience to sympathize with.
Overall, “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” is a punchy, uncompromising crime thriller that delivers exactly what it promises and is a fantastic showcase for the talents of both director Abner Pastoll and lead actress Sarah Bolger.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Seen at Monster Fest Sydney on November 3rd, 2019.
Signature Entertainment presents A Good Woman is Hard to Find in Cinemas and Digital HD 25th October 2019