A Good Woman Is Hard to Find review: an intense tale of crime and retribution

Sarah Bolger gives a remarkable performance as a young widow whose home is invaded by violent crime in this refreshingly astute gangster thriller.

Kim Newman

Sarah Bolger as Sarah Collins in A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

Sarah Bolger as Sarah Collins in A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

This spare, intense, Northern Ireland-set crime movie showcases an excellent star turn from Sarah Bolger – whose varied CV includes the vampire-struck victim of The Moth Diaries (2011) and the psycho nanny of Emelie (2015) – as a widowed young mum driven to extremes when the violent gangland that took her husband’s life spills into her house.

Tito (Andrew Simpson), a chancer in an unhelpfully distinctive orange hoodie, ramraids a couple of drug dealers and forces his way into the home of Sarah Collins, already thoroughly put-upon by the police’s lack of interest in her husband’s murder (they presume he was another gang member), the disdain of her middle-class mother (Jane Brennan) for her life choices, embarrassing privations such as having to pry batteries out of a toy to power her vibrator, and the demands of two young children, one of whom hasn’t spoken since witnessing her husband’s stabbing. Tito hides the drugs in her bathroom and returns for them – quixotically offering a partnership (and a generous percentage) in the sales, then making himself creepily comfortable in her front room.

Of course, local drug lord Miller (Edward Hogg, in a ‘Sean Harris’ role) – who has a pernickety sense of grammar – wants to extract vengeance from the rip-off artist. Silent young Ben (Rudy Doherty) cringes when Miller looms, hinting that the small-scale boss (an English transplant) is ultimately responsible for all Sarah’s woes.

Rather like Dominic Brunt’s Bait (2014), this depicts an ordinary woman being downtrodden by criminals and economic circumstance and eventually compelled to gruesome acts that earned A Good Woman Is Hard to Find a prime slot in London’s horror-themed FrightFest event. It might otherwise be a Ken Loach chick-flick take on Harry Brown (2009), as the heroine endures repeated abuses from individual men and an uncaring system… until a climax in which she dolls up as a film noir blonde, with a gun in one hand and a blood-leaking bag in the other, in order to face her monster in his lair.

Ronan Blaney’s script is so pared down that the tight little knot of a plot is almost too neat. The darkly comic scene with the batteries and the vibrator is also a set-up for a later violent plot development, as is Ben’s habit of ferreting out and eating supermarket sweeties before they’ve been paid for.

Abner Pastoll (Road Games) directs with an eye for local detail and a confidence that just pointing the camera at the excellent Bolger’s face during the most squirm-inducing sequences will convey more than the flashes of special-effects gore. Though Sarah reacts against criminals, she’s patronised, ignored, irritated and hit on by almost everyone – a supermarket security guard who takes her for a hooker, a social worker who assumes a broken window must be her fault, police more interested in a noise complaint than a killing, and her endlessly disappointed mother.

Most crime movies, especially those from the UK, feed into the image of petty crooks as likeable, almost-admirable rebels, and have an implied contempt for ‘civilians’. This is a rare film to remember that even low-level criminal losers such as Tito – brilliantly played as a little boy who can’t understand why the woman he’s dragooning into a drug deal doesn’t like him – can be terrifying to be around and more liable to batter or stab their way to what they immediately want without thinking of the inevitable consequences due in five minutes’ time than to rattle off a monologue about pop culture or fast food.

 

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