The taut Irish crime-thriller “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” opens with a closeup of a young woman, her face covered in dried blood and her eyes full of concern. She steps into the shower revealing blood on her arms and back. It’s clearly not her own. This is how director Abner Pastoll introduces us to Sarah (played by Sarah Bolger), by giving us a glimpse into her traumatic future.
Hop back a few days. Sarah is a recently widowed mother of two still devastated by her husband’s recent murder. Her 9-year-old son hasn’t spoken a word since witnessing his father being stabbed to death. The local police aren’t any help, telling her “Just let sleeping dogs lie.” Her cold, surly mother (Jane Brennan) isn’t much better, thinking Her daughter should just get over it. “You’re too soft Sarah” she barks. “You always were.” So much for a family support system.
Things get even worse when a scar-faced hood named Tito (Andrew Simpson) bursts into Sarah’s apartment after stealing drugs from some neighborhood pushers. He stashes the dope in Sarah’s bathroom and threatens to hurt her kids if she doesn’t play along. Tito comes back periodically to pick up more drugs from his stash and to give Sarah a 40% cut she didn’t ask for. She wants no part of Tito’s dealing, but the money helps her put food on the table.
Here’s the thing, you don’t steal drugs from drug dealers, especially violently psychotic ones like Leo Miller (a borderline cartoonish Edward Hogg). He runs a local nightclub which is nothing more than a cover for his drug operation. The goons Tito stole the dope from worked for Leo. Gulp. Guilty by association (despite it being outside of her control), Sarah finds herself caught in the middle. But she’s determined not to let her kids lose another parent, regardless of what it takes.
Just recently I was chatting with a friend of the site about Sarah Bolger and my unfamiliarity with her work. Here she gives an eye-opening performance, quiet when it needs to be and fierce once the movie catapults her character into some dark demanding places. She’s the backbone of the movie, appearing in nearly every scene, and giving us a firm, relatable rooting interest. She’s so good here.
The not so great title aside, Pastoll, Bolger and screenwriter Ronan Blaney tell a gritty crime story that takes some unexpectedly grisly turns (it’s not for the squeamish). Yet despite the second half’s thick coat of blood and violence, “A Good Woman” is just as much a story about motherhood, deglamorized and grounded in real experience. In many ways the scenes showing Sarah’s economic and social struggles are the most potent. They do clash a bit with the final act’s gory revenge-fantasy vibe, but we never lose sight of the mother-children dynamic. And Bolger keeps us glued to the screen throughout.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS