A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND

★★★

HARD-BOILED CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN BELFAST

ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT
By Jake Watt
3rd May 2020

From scheming robbers ('Widows') to potential murderers ('Thoroughbreds') to corrupt cops ('Destroyer'), more and more, women are getting their due voice in the crime film genre. Female-led crime films can feel like both a symbol of progress and a channel for righteous female rage, as well as offering a kind of catharsis.

Sarah (Sarah Bolger, 'The Spiderwick Chronicles') is a twenty-something single mum of two small children. Not only is she battling grief following the death of her husband, Stephen, she's also dealing with an electively mute son, a disapproving mother (Jane Brennan), and harassment from a sleazy supermarket security guard.

She lives in an unnamed Northern Irish estate of the 'Harry Brown' variety, one where violent, drug-dealing thugs hold sway over terrorised residents while the police do nothing. Stephen was attacked and killed by a group of men, and despite his wife's insistence that the attack was unprovoked and needs investigating, the police fail to act and Stephen's murder is brushed off as a dispute between drug dealers. Her life is hurled into further turmoil after resident dirtbag Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her home to hide a stash of cocaine he ripped off from local gangsters. Tito hides the drugs in her bathroom and offers a partnership in the sales. Although fearful, she begins to see this as an opportunity to find out more about who killed her husband.

'A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND' TRAILER

Meanwhile, malevolent gang leader Leo Miller (Edward Hogg, 'Jupiter Ascending') is searching for Tito and the missing coke. Unlike the gritty reality of the rest of the movie, his dialogue is straight out of a comic book. "Don't call me 'man', find some other noun," Leo hisses at a subordinate goon. Later in the piece, the grammatically precise baddie interrogates a pair of dim-witted dealers before telling one: "Give me a metaphor." He immediately batters him with a claw hammer when a simile is offered up.

'A Good Woman is Hard to Find' isn't action-packed. Instead, it's a slow-paced, small-budgeted indie crime drama that focuses on the impact of random violence, leading to a few disturbing and rather disgusting scenes. While director Abner Pastoll ('Road Games') keeps the tone muted and serious, he also lets some black humour creep in - mainly via Hogg's over-the-top villain - and some warmth in Sarah's interaction with her family, distinguishing this film from your typical grim revenge drama.

It's gratifying when she eventually pokes out a scumbag's eye with a dildo and begins to metamorphosise into a hardboiled femme fatale straight from the pages of a Max Allan Collins novel.

Sarah Bolger's central performance drives the film. "You're too soft, Sarah," her mother tells her at the beginning of the story, "You always were." She's patronised and abused by the hoodlums, local police, social workers, and that one guy at the supermarket until she begins to develop a fight-over-flight mantra.

Due to Bolger's ability to make us sympathise with her "pudding" of a character early on, it's gratifying when she eventually pokes out a scumbag's eye with a dildo and begins to metamorphosise into a hardboiled femme fatale straight from the pages of a Max Allan Collins novel. Then the film shifts style, from kitchen sink dreariness to tension-filled, expressionistic thriller, tempered by that aforementioned dark, self-effacing humour about the absurdity of the situation. That it never feels too jarring shows the strength of the production team.

Coupled with Richard C. Bell's cinematography, some striking shots of Belfast, stylish neon-coloured lighting and a chilling score from Matthew Pusti, 'A Good Woman is Hard to Find' is a moody addition to the crime revenge film genre and an impressive, distinctive showcase for its star.

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