Studio: Film Movement
Director: Abner Pastoll
Writer: Ronan Blaney
Producer: Junyoung Jang, Guillaume Benski
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson, Jane Brennan, Caolan Byrne, Packy Lee
A struggling single mother¡¯s chance encounter with a street hood leads her down a dark pathway toward uncovering the truth behind her husband¡¯s murder.
Character studies of marginalized women fighting to break free from shells made by misogyny have seen a surge. Perhaps this is a rippling result of #MeToo opening engagement with stories about wrestling to redefine individual identities. 2019 alone had Haley Bennett as a trophy housewife suffering from an unusual disorder in ¡°Swallow¡± (review here), Raffey Cassidy as a disillusioned teen coming of age in a cult in ¡°The Other Lamb¡± (review here), and Sarah Bolger as a widow struggling to raise two children following her husband¡¯s murder in ¡°A Good Woman Is Hard to Find.¡±
All three movies are variably framed as dramatic thrillers, although the first two lean more on dreamy drama than they do on tangible thrills. An obsessive fascination with putting vacant stares on Bennett¡¯s face regularly drags ¡°Swallow¡± into stagnation. ¡°The Other Lamb¡± also falls far into interpretive artistry, asking the audience to assign meaning to lingering looks on Cassidy¡¯s face. Both films aren¡¯t breakdowns of broken people so much as they are endurance tests for an actor¡¯s ability to emote expressively, and an audience¡¯s ability to find the art or entertainment lurking therein.
Energized by a comparative uptick in intensity, ¡°A Good Woman Is Hard to Find¡± is the first of these films to fully feel like a multi-dimensional portrait of a person in crisis, not a mere showcase for quiet frowns and moody malaise. Sarah Bolger commandingly grabs her role¡¯s reins and pulls them so tight, they nearly snap from the power behind her performance. Dismantling then reassembling her alter ego with the capable aid of Abner Pastoll¡¯s pinpointed direction and Ronan Blaney¡¯s meticulous writing, Bolger presents a truly transformative arc grounded in heartbreaking reality despite telling a new age noir tale of seedy street crime.
Sarah¡¯s six-year-old son Ben hasn¡¯t spoken a word since he saw someone stab his father. In addition to Ben¡¯s voice, Stephen¡¯s death took Sarah¡¯s emotional and financial stability. Scraping together grocery money competes with loneliness and motherhood to challenge Sarah¡¯s mousy demeanor on a daily basis.
Bolger portrays Sarah¡¯s perpetual pain through visibly bag-eyed anguish akin to what Bennett and Cassidy do in their respective films. Haggard hair and sullen slouches form Sarah¡¯s basic skeleton, but seemingly minor moments put flesh on her bones.
One might not give much initial regard to Sarah reticently accepting a flier pushed into her hand by an aggressive solicitor outside a store. In spite of the intrusion, Sarah makes sure to pause, politely says ¡°thank you,¡± and does what this stranger wants because she¡¯d never risk rocking a boat. Retroactive weight applies to this scene during end credits, when Sarah walks past the political panhandler once more. Having completed her metamorphosis, Sarah¡¯s palm now opens for a quick salute of ¡°stop¡± as she continues confidently forward without breaking stride.
Other incidental instances see Sarah flashing indignant ¡°how dare you¡± eyes at an investigating police officer who snatches a small snack off her kitchen counter. A sequence included for amusement finds Sarah so desperate to scrounge up dildo batteries, she takes a knife to a children¡¯s toy to get at the AA reward locked inside. Sarah¡¯s face stays in frame for most of the movie, and she doesn¡¯t always have a lot to say. But these physical reactions to understated details continually elevate her above a hollowly pouting personality.
Oddly, Sarah¡¯s depressive spiral might never reach a rebound point if not for low-level hood Tito Riley. After ripping off two drug dealers working for local crime boss Leo Miller, Tito randomly selects Sarah¡¯s nearby home as a hiding place. Terrified by his alpha male attitude, Sarah wilts under Tito¡¯s threats and allows him to store the stolen stash in her house. This chance encounter sets off a chain of events that alters Sarah¡¯s behavior while opening an unexpected avenue into the truth behind her husband¡¯s death.
Andrew Simpson puts on a delightfully surprising little show as Tito. Tito could come off as a common movie criminal except Simpson massages him with the same subtle styling that adds depth to Sarah. The cock of Simpson¡¯s smile tells a whole story about Tito¡¯s rash rush to rob a drug lord. Here¡¯s a proud man so impressed at pulling off the impossible, he booms with overconfidence to commandeer a widow¡¯s household too. Working from a bizarre moral code, he even cuts Sarah in on the cash made from slinging, and thinks to bring sweets for the kids on one of his unannounced visits. Someone taking the swings Tito does shouldn¡¯t come with this much charisma or be able to squeeze sympathy from an audience. Yet Simpson blends black and white to put Tito in a position where we can¡¯t be sure exactly how we want him to fit into Sarah¡¯s picture.
By bolstering the individual intrigue of Sarah and Tito, ¡°A Good Woman Is Hard to Find¡± induces an unwanted side effect where main adversary Leo Miller (Edward Hogg) shrinks inside their shadows. Of the three thugs in the murderous mix, Leo is the least intimidating, which translates into weak embodiment of someone intended to be a badass boss. Hogg does what¡¯s expected of the role; he just doesn¡¯t have the right presence to back it up authoritatively.
Leo¡¯s unimpressive characterization is also a rare example of the script¡¯s details working to someone¡¯s detriment. A certain scene exists to establish why Leo would coincidentally be at the same hospital as Sarah, which is an eye-rolling stretch to say the least, but going there to have his knuckles stitched up after beating a man bloody doesn¡¯t exactly scream ¡°tough guy.¡± Other shots don¡¯t pump up Leo¡¯s villainy as much as they should either. Sudden cuts to Leo chiding his two enforcers or something similarly underwhelming diffuse the focus from Sarah¡¯s story while suggesting Leo would make a better lackey than he does a leader.
Extraneous additions like Leo¡¯s perfunctorily bad behavior shackle an iron ball on the movie¡¯s speed. There isn¡¯t enough flab to put totally unattractive love handles on the runtime, though burning some calories on an editing room treadmill would provide stronger stamina. ¡°A Good Woman Is Hard to Find¡± gets roughly 75% of the way there in terms of its people and pacing. Then it wheezes during several circuits around slow-motion stretches or other sequences that strain rhythm. Do we really need the full two minutes of Sarah being escorted through nightclub corridors toward her climactic confrontation, for instance?
When it isn¡¯t hiccupping from fleeting burps of boredom, the film still provides an engrossing platform to examine how one woman unconventionally recovers from despair. You¡¯ll connect the dots on the minor mystery well before Sarah does, but the movie¡¯s main course is made from the smoke of suspense, steak of a character study, and sizzle of Sarah Bolger¡¯s performance. Even if it doesn¡¯t satiate action-hungry appetites, ¡°A Good Woman Is Hard to Find¡± puts enough on the plate to make a rich meal.
Review Score: 65