By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg and Andrew Simpson
Directed by Abner Pastoll
Written by Ronan Blaney
February Films/Superbe Films/Frakas Productions
Two of the best films showcased at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival were thrillers in which women are forced to make tough and sometimes violent choices when they become embroiled in local criminal elements. Although the milieu and style are different, Abner Pastoll’s A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND makes a fine companion piece to Matthew Pope’s BLOOD ON HER NAME (reviewed here), and similarly showcases a terrific, multidimensional lead performance.
Sarah Bolger, the fine Irish actress who last visited the genre scene as the sinister suburban American babysitter in EMELIE, is on home turf in GOOD WOMAN and once again looking after children, only here it’s as Sarah, the single mom of a couple of young kids. She’s struggling to raise them alone after the murder of her husband—a crime witnessed by her son Ben (Rudy Doherty), who was traumatized to speechlessness by the incident. One morning, the violence of the streets invades her home as young thug Tito (Andrew Simpson), who has just ripped off a bag of drugs from underlings of crime boss Leo Miller, barges into her home to escape from them. He insists on stashing the goods in her bathroom until he can sell them off—cutting her in on a piece of the action—and Bolger conveys sufficient fragility to convince that the frightened Sarah would go along with this arrangement, with just enough moral strength to turn down the money.
The screenplay by Ronan Blaney, an Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner for his short film BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM, tracks Sarah as she navigates an environment (an unnamed Irish city filmed in Belfast and Belgium) where she’s at the mercy of men who attempt to exploit her apparent weaknesses, and is even condescended to by her own disapproving mum (Jane Brennan). “Apparent” is the key word there, since her situation eventually leads Sarah to commit an act that’s violently out of character yet very plausibly born of desperation. What appears to be a solution to her immediate problem only leads to even worse troubles, since Leo (Edward Hogg) wants his drugs back in the worst way and the local police respect Sarah as little as the guy in the local grocery who crudely propositions her.
The strength of Bolger’s performance, as Sarah finds it in herself to fight aggression with aggression, is the key element carrying A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND, but not the only one. Pastoll, while not flinching in his depiction of the violence (including an attempted assault on Sarah that’s tough to watch), doesn’t wallow in either the brutality or the hardships she’s confronted with, maintains a punchy pace and, with Blaney, even delivers some effective gallows humor—as when Sarah takes a course of action reminiscent of Abel Ferrara’s early empowerment classic MS. 45. The finale in particular involves a gag that’s both ghastly and gruesomely funny, and perfectly pays off a key story thread. It also hinges on the complete convincingness of Dan Martin’s makeup effects, which are sparingly spaced through the movie but bloody enough when they appear to nudge this crime thriller into horror territory. The dangerous, uncertain vibe is further elicited by Richard Bell’s moody cinematography and the edgy score by Makeup and Vanity Set (a.k.a. Matthew Pusti).
Well-crafted on every level, A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND works above all because of how attuned it is to its people, from the side trips into the lives of both Tito and Leo (very well played by Simpson and Hogg) to the moments when Sarah’s kids innocently and unwittingly complicate matters for her. This is one of a number of films recently to hold its title till the end, and in this case it makes a point, after we’ve watched Sarah persevere through abusive and threatening circumstances. And if you want to find one of the very best performances by a woman on the recent genre scene, you need look no further.