Synopsis – A recently widowed young mother will go to any lengths to protect her children as she seeks the truth behind her husband’s murder.
My Take – Though there has been an overflow of revenge thrillers in the past two decades, especially of the B variety, productions companies continue to back projects with baselines about a women being pushed to the edge of violence and beyond, especially the ones which typically focus on them seeking vengeance for crimes against their loved ones.
While a debatable thin line exists between portraying genuine empowerment and exploitation (like filmmaker Meir Zarchi‘s deplorable and never ending I Spit on Your Grave series), like most, I too agree that there is something so inherently satisfying about seeing a man or a bunch of men who did a woman wrong face her version of justice.
Thankfully, this Indie British thriller from director Abner Pastoll (Road Games) feels familiarly fresh and delivers the kind of seat-standing, crowd-roaring payoff the sub-genre needs. Here, the gritty flick combines elements of home invasion thrillers, and the gangster genre to fairly successful effect, hereby making it an interesting mix that should put both director Pastoll and his lead Sarah Bolger on the map.
The story follows Sarah (Sarah Bolger), a recently widowed young mother of two children, Ben (Rudy Doherty) and Lucy (Macie McCauley) who is struggling to pay the bills. While her two-fisted mother, Jane (Jane Brennan) is helping her as much as she can, Sarah is finding it difficult to move on from everything especially considering how the police seems completely disinterested in investigating or solving her husband’s murder, an event which has also left Ben traumatically speech impaired.
Unfortunately, her whole situation gets even worse when Tito (Andrew Simpson), a small-time thug, comes crashing into her flat, while on the run from two bigger-time thugs, who he’s just ripped off. Though Tito leave almost immediately, he soon begins making return visits against Sarah’s will, to collect the drugs he has stashed in her bathroom. While Tito starts sharing a cut of his earnings, unknown to Sarah, it also puts her family on the radar of Leo Miller (Edward Hogg), the local crime lord with a screw loose, and a penchant for good grammar. Forcing Sarah to make some deadly decisions.
With that in place, the film proceeds to ratchet up the tension. The setup of the film is simple enough, and isn’t action-packed as one might believe it to be. Instead, it’s a slow-paced, small-budgeted indie crime drama that focuses on the impact of random violence, leading to a few disturbing scenes. But the joy comes with the directions and choices that follow through the film‘s lean and efficient running time.
Decades of similar-sounding thrillers have taught viewers to expect certain things, particularly in the relationship between a female protagonist and a male antagonist, but the film stays on its toes throughout and nimbly dances around those clichés. And surprisingly unlike a lot of other vengeance films, there is hardly anything sexy about it at all.
While director Abner Pastoll keeps the tone muted and serious, he also lets some black humor creep in, mainly via the film’s over-the-top villain, and some warmth in Sarah’s interaction with her family, distinguishing this film from your typical grim revenge drama.
But the film’s greatest strength comes in the time spent with Sarah in between those genre-fueled sequences. Her constant balance between exhaustion and resilience is highly recognizable and works to endear Sarah to viewers in unexpected ways. A scene involving her effort to try and relax with a vibrator makes her instantly relatable and humanizes her in ways most thrillers could only dream of. You see Sarah’s under-eye circles after several sleepless nights dealing with unimaginable horrors. You see a lot of blood and guts. You never see Sarah as weak, however. She always has the preservation of her family as her first priority.
But she also never become some B-film, insane killing machine figure, she becomes someone driven by desperation who sees no other option and consequently has to do immoral things to save herself and her family. It’s never only about just being caught between a gang that troubles her but also the casual sexism and dismissiveness she has been facing for being a single mum is what opens up the film to the outlandish turn the third act takes which somehow retains a believable realm of feasibility.
Although the film does suffer from some sloppy writing in places, Sarah Bolger’s startling, transformative performance which drives the film more than compensates. A performance which is layered with a trembling tenderness, wretched exhaustion, and a grit-teeth rage. With sleepless nights wearing heavy on her face, she’s never less than authentic as the woman who deserves so much better. Bolger makes Sarah’s leap into drastic problem-solving mode totally authentic.
Her on screen children, Rudy Doherty and Macie McCauley also put in two fantastic child performances, and is ably supported by the mean spirited Jane Brennan. Andrew Simpson too shines in his role. Though, Edward Hogg’s performance feels a bit too heightened for the rest of the film it brings a degree of grim fun that ultimately doesn’t hurt things. On the whole, ‘A Good Woman Is Hard to Find’ is a moody little engaging thriller uplifted by the lead’s star-making performance.
Directed – Abner Pastoll
Rated – R
Run Time – 97 minutes