A Good Woman Is Hard to Find
2020, NR, 97 min. Directed by Abner Pastoll. Starring Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson, Jane Brennan, Caolan Byrne, Packy Lee, Susan Ateh, Siobhan Kelly, Rudy Doherty, Macie McCauley.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 1, 2020
No genre splits audiences quite like the female revenge drama. The line between genuine empowerment and exploitation is a thin one, and often a source of heavy debate and reappraisal. (Ask yourself, how often has I Spit on Your Grave been refiled as un/acceptable over the decades?)
There’s no such concern here with A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, a gritty crime flick that delivers the kind of seat-standing, crowd-roaring payoff the genre needs.
Sarah (Bolger) is living on a council estate in an unnamed town in Northern Ireland, but she’s seen better times. Stuck in a small flat with her daughter, Lucy (McCauley), and son, Ben (Doherty), who has been left mute by bearing witness to his father’s brutal murder, she could leave. Yet she seems bonded to the place that birthed - and stole away - the love of her life. Her mother (Brennan) can’t work out why Sarah won’t just come back home to the comfortable middle-class bosom of her family and would have screamed, “I told you so,” if she ever found out about young thug Tito (Simpson), a conniving little shit who kicks down Sarah’s door and menaces her until she stashes the drugs that he ripped off from a local gangster. Said gangster is unimpressed by this state of affairs, and so unleashes the hounds to track down Tito. Of course, that will inevitably lead him to Sarah’s door.
Bolger proved a rare grasp for nuanced genre fare with brutal cuckoo-in-the-nest thriller Emelie, but here she finds a fractured strength as the widowed Sarah. Pale skin taut over tired bones, sleepless nights wearing heavy on her face, she’s never less than authentic as the woman who deserves so much better. It’s not just being caught in a gang war, but the casual sexism and dismissiveness she faces by being a single mum (captured in excruciating detail in her encounters with a lascivious supermarket mall cop). But the fact that she’s ignored in a neighborhood where the real cops don’t patrol opens up the movie to a Grand Guignol third act that somehow retains a believable sheen.
She also has a great foil, but it’s not Tito (although Simpson does a great job as the low-rent petty criminal too dumb to realize his big score is a death sentence). It’s Hogg, ripping into the part of loquacious and violent local crime boss Leo Miller. Smart enough to be dangerous, confident enough to be terrifying, and patient enough to be truly menacing - plus extremely handy with a hammer - he’s right in the tradition of Bob Hoskins’ aspirational honest man Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday, or Ben Kingsley’s turn as sophisticated sociopath Don Logan in Sexy Beast. Played as an English transplant to Ireland (the implication being that he’s taken full advantage of the sectarian struggles to carve out his little empire), Hogg makes Leo a stiletto knife of a man, a pronounced Manchester accent carving the air with long, shrill vowels just as easily as he’ll cut up flesh.
He gives a focal point for Sarah’s inevitable and bloody path to revenge and redemption, but Ronan Blaney’s script already gave you every reason in the world to root for this underdog heroine. Mixing Ken Loach-style social realism with Mike Hodge’s grasp of stylish murder, much in the vein of 2012’s equally razor-balanced sniper shocker Tower Block, you’ll be cheering for this good woman when she faces the inevitable showdown.
A Good Woman is Hard to Find is currently available through Film Movement’s initiative whereby streaming “tickets” can be bought through virtual ticket booths for local arthouse cinemas. Choose from:
• Violet Crown (Link)