[Fantasia 2019] 'A Good Woman Is Hard to Find' is a devastating crime thriller steeped in gritty realism
Having played at Fantasia 2019 this past weekend, the new film from director Abner Pastoll, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, proves that you’ll have no problem finding quality work from Pastoll…
…Written by Ronan Blaney (Love Bite), and directed by Pastoll (Road Games), A Good Woman Is Hard to Find is a gut-wrenching crime thriller following Sarah (Sarah Bolger), a recently widowed woman attempting to move past the death of her husband with her two kids. But life is never easy, and through a stroke of more bad luck, Sarah finds herself as the unwilling accomplice of a drug dealer who may just know who was behind the murder of the man she loved. But Sarah isn’t about to be pushed around by the men trying to control her life.
A Good Woman Is Hard to Find sets us up for a gut-wrenching story from the first moment, opening with the provocative image of Sarah covered in blood, unbelieving of whatever she’s just done. You’ll want to root for Sarah the second you meet her, because Bolger is simply astounding. No matter how well directed, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find wouldn’t be the same without Bolger carrying the heavy weight of the film on her shoulders. I can’t imagine the film without her. Playing a woman who is struggling every damn day to take care of her kids, one of whom won’t talk anymore after witnessing his father’s murder, Bolger is balancing a lot of complicated emotions, and she makes it look easy. Sarah must constantly put on a smile for her kids, or remain calm among the male threats in her life, all while wanting to scream on the inside, and Bolger masterfully conveys that constant scream through her eyes.
While A Good Woman Is Hard to Find may sound like an odd title at first, the idea behind it gradually becomes clear: this is a story about how good women like Sarah are constantly dragged into violence, most often as a result of male abuse, which is exactly the case here. Thanks to an awful coincidence, Sarah suddenly finds herself at the mercy of Tito (Andrew Simpson), a drug dealer who breaks into her house to hide some cocaine he stole. Despite him offering Sarah a good portion of the cut, all she wants is for him take the money she could totally use and leave, yet, like some fucked up, forced dating service, Tito returns every night for more of his stash, a beer, and a “good” chat. Some of those chats include Tito saying things I’ve sure every woman has had to stomach, like when he looks at an old photo and says Sarah doesn’t look like she used to, implying she isn’t pretty anymore because she’s not wearing makeup. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in that situation, but I know the resolve Sarah shows is a stronger reaction than whatever I would do, and that’s part of what makes Sarah’s story such an important one. She’s an example of all of the women who are forced into the company of men like Tito on a daily basis, and what they must do in order to survive men like him, and worse.
And there are, believe it or not, much worse men storming around in A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, namely, Leo (Edward Hogg) a crime lord oddly obsessed with figurative language, looking for Tito. These men are all about violence, forcing Sarah into their world. The brilliant thing about Pastoll’s film is that, rather than go the highly-stylized route with Sarah all of a sudden going Kill Bill on everyone’s ass, Pastoll takes the gritty realism approach. One scene in particular finds Sarah having to cut a dead body into pieces, and watching her shake and cry and deal with the trauma of that was one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve seen in a film like this. Pastoll doesn’t hold back on the visceral nature either, soaking the frame in dark red blood. Sarah’s world is consumed by death and nasty moments like this, as are we, since images of body parts and sawing and killing flash into her mind, haunting her.
A Good Woman Is Hard to Find isn’t without it’s missteps though. Thanks to a massive amount of coincidence knocking at her doorstep, literally, and leading her to her husband’s killer, the realism of the film which Pastoll wants to create falters just a bit and occasionally took me out of the moment. More damning than that, though, is the mixed messaging of the film. Maybe I’m misinterpreting things, but towards the end, once Sarah knows she must face the killers that have come into her life head on, what is our visual cue that Sarah has found her strength? She puts on makeup. It’s a scene that feels more “How Sarah Got Her Groove Back” than anything that belongs in a film about women standing up to the abuses of men, especially when we’re made to despise Tito’s earlier comments hinting at Sarah’s lack of makeup. So, is this supposed to be Sarah taking his “advice” and becoming “pretty”, aka, confident again? I’m not sure, but it didn’t sit right with me, unfortunately taking the air out of an ending that is otherwise highly satisfying.
More than anything, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find is a film that shines a beacon on Bolger with a devastating performance that had better win some awards this year. A dramatic thriller that is compelling and tense until the very end, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find should have no trouble finding an audience that connects with this powerful story.
By Matt Konopka