I reviewed Abner Pastoll’s feature film, Road Games, a few years back. And while not a perfect film (check out my 4-star review here), it was a valiant and enjoyable effort – helped along by an always terrific performance from Barbara Crampton.
Well, his latest feature, A Good Woman is Hard to Find – holding its US Premiere at the 19th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles – shows improvement.
And that is indeed an understatement. A Good Woman is Hard to Find is absolutely fantastic.
Recent widow Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is struggling through her grief, the ineptitude of the authorities (in the search for her husband’s murderer), and through having to raise her two small children alone – one rendered mute by his father’s death. She’s short on cash and has a tepid relationship with her mother Alice (Jane Brennan). Through a series of random events, small-time drug-dealer Tito (Notes on a Scandal’s Andrew Simpson) barges into her life, and what additional problems could arise from such an encounter, inevitably do.
At the center of this film, is the impressive and multi-layered performance from Sarah Bolger. It’s award-worthy work here.
Kudos must be given to screenwriter (and Oscar nominee) Ronan Blaney. There is no shortage of past baggage and incredible hurdles for the character of Sarah to overcome.
And Bolger just nails everything – from the smallest of reactions to the lecherous supermarket employee, to doing the unthinkable in her bedroom, to turning into a legit femme fatale. It truly is a perfect firestorm of fantastic writing in the hands of an expert thespian. We care about Sarah from the get-go, and never, ever does that sympathy dwindle. The audience I was with made it clear that we were all backing Sarah up – as evidenced by the hoots and hollers as the climax reached its satisfying closing moments. Sarah is a real character with real problems and yet – she’s also an ultimate bad-ass. That sort of organic progression is a fascinating (and rare) find in film. Simply, Bolger is mesmerizing.
Andrew Simpson (also a lead actor in Pastoll’s Road Games) brings an intriguing childish innocence to what is a see-saw villain role. Tito’s not a good person, but little things in the script (candy for the kids) show that he at least has something of a good side. That’s a tough line to walk as an actor, but Simpson (with those amazingly expressive blue eyes) manages to be both menacing, as well as innocent and somehow sympathetic.
The film firmly establishes Sarah and her exhausting situation, before turning up the octane and throwing out some Hitchcock-esque suspense (when the police arrive to check on a “disturbance”, all the while the audience knowing what’s going on in the back bedroom of Sarah’s home). And the tension as Sarah moves to avenge her murdered husband – delicious.
I loved the cinematography. Gorgeous overhead shots of a strangely hypnotic and regimented “estate” (the neighborhood Sarah lives in) and the busy city beyond. It looks cluttered and adds a good deal to the idea that Sarah is in among hundreds of neighbors, but ultimately has no one to reach out to for help.
And it’s always been my belief that if so few of the technical pieces of a film, fail to draw attention to themselves – only serving to enhance the story and the character’s journey – then they have succeeded. I couldn’t tell you one thing about the score, but indeed it was there, apparently doing a bang-up job, because I was on edge for a good deal of the film. Take note, filmmakers. Editing, costumes, music and all of the work of the other talented artisans, should never be a focus-puller (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course).
RELATED ARTICLE: ROAD GAMES (2016) REVIEW
And here we are at the few (and minor) reservations.
The only thing keeping the film from a perfect score (so damned close it pains me… but a reservation is a reservation), is a slight sag in the pacing somewhere at the film’s mid-point. I’ve often spoken of those dreaded “I just came up for air” moments. I was so deeply involved in Sarah’s plight – but then something switched off and I had that brief “Oh, I’ve got so many reviews to finish”. And it’s always telling to me that if I was taken out of something I was so invested in – then it’s not my issue. I was there. I was on board. Something in the film changed, thus allowing me to fall back into my own external thoughts.
I also had a bit of distaste for Sarah’s “gussying up” for the film’s climax. I know that it was hinted at all throughout the film, and that her application of make-up was something of a “prepping for battle with war face-paint”. It frankly felt as if this choice sort of cheapened Sarah and all that she had done and overcome. I understand its placement, but just didn’t care for it.
I was also not a huge fan of the criminal contingent in the film. Although I enjoyed Leo Miller’s (Edward Hogg) intense command of grammar and language, there was nothing much setting the film’s criminals aside from every other crime syndicate in every other crime film made. There was no new ground broken here.
A Good Woman is Hard to Find is an intense and satisfying crime thriller, anchored by a genuinely impressive lead performance from Sarah Bolger. These are characters you’ll root for and situations which will make you squirm in your seat (in a good way). An easy winner, and worthy of a 4.5-star review.
A Good Woman is Hard to Find is still playing the festival circuit. No wider release information is yet available.