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Good Woman Is Hard to Find, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Sometimes nasty but often visceral."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "A Good Woman Is Hard to Find" starts as one sort of crime movie and evolves into another, and truth be told, it's the first half that seems to have the greater potential at first. Of course, a lot of the best genre movies are built around hidden potential both in the characters and story, and that's what makes this one sing - the right casting and some willingness to crank up the pressure can do wonders for even the most threadbare thriller plots, and this one's got some really good work from top to bottom.

The potential good woman in question is Sarah Collins (Sarah Bolger), recently widowed without much of a safety net; after a flash-forward, she's introduced carefully doing math in a Belfast supermarket as she shops for herself and her two children. Ben (Rudy Doherty) is six years old and hasn't spoken since his father was killed, and Lucy (Macie McCauley) is four. As if they haven't had enough trauma, their car is stolen and the guy who did so, Tito (Andrew Simpson), eventually decides to lay low at Sarah's house, since the very randomness of choosing their car means local crime boss Leo Miller (Edward Hogg) won't be know where to find the guy who stole his drugs. It is, naturally, a terrible plan for all involved.

The nifty casting turns out to be Sarah Bolger, who invests this young working-class widow with plenty of nerve when appropriate, a hard-earned variety that's convincing enough that the film has no need to open with or flash back to the events that put the family in its current position - the audience can see exactly how much she loved her late husband even if he wasn't perfect in the way she tenses up in every scene with her mother and in how she seems defiant in her survival. The script seldom makes her overconfident or timid, and she's got the right mix of courage and fear at all times, someone who knows her capability but recognizes real danger. Bolger always seems to recognize that she's in a crime movie even when being placed in relatively ordinary situations, always looking over her shoulder or otherwise paying extra attention.

The plotting is, Intriguingly, neither intricate nor chaotic; it relies on a certain sort of dangerous serendipity that can seem like randomness or cheating in the wrong hands. In those of writer Ronan Blaney and director Abner Pastoll, there's something that seems right about how most crime here seems opportunistic, the result of someone choosing to act when in the right (or wrong) place at the right time. It's not a natural thing, and the only characters far enough down the rabbit hole to treat it as one are psychopaths. The question is whether Sarah and her grounded sanity can be enough in those situations, and how she's right on the border of being out of her depth and able to assert control even when things get messy in the last act.

And, oh, how things get messy; the film sets a bar for not just how tense it's going to be but the manner in which that will happen and then pushes the climax up, changing direction it the point where other films might do the sort of pull-back-and-fade-while-credits-roll. It's a sharp enough change to make a viewer wary, especially since this back-end uses cruder tools than the already rough-and-tumble first half, but by the time it's over the audience is just as engaged as it was earlier, and maybe saying that while they might not have done it this way, it certainly reveals more about what Sarah is capable of than stopping earlier might have.

It still makes for a movie that may alienate folks who might want it to be one thing or the other; there's probably no avoiding that. It does what it's aiming for in impressive fashion, and provides a heck of a showcase for Bolger.

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originally posted: 04/12/20 10:32:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  25-Oct-2019 (18)

  13-May-2020 (MA)

Directed by
  Abner Pastoll

Written by
  Ronan Blaney

  Sarah Bolger
  Edward Hogg
  Andrew Simpson

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